EU Firewall

There have been many talks of the EU implementing its own "Great Firewall" akin to that of the "Great Firewall of China." In February of 2011, the European Union's Law Enforcement Work Party (LEWP) proposed an idea that led many people to be extremely worried about the future of the Internet in the EU. The group suggested drastic measures for dealing with illicit sites. Their suggestion was to create a blacklist of sites maintained by ISPs that were deemed inappropriate.

This blacklist has been viewed as extremely dangerous and authoritarian. While there have been small-scale cases of censorship in various countries in the EU, including France and Germany, nothing of this scale has ever been seen in Europe. Its goal is to provide a single secure European cyberspace for its citizens. However many note that even if such a firewall were in place, people would find ways to circumvent the firewall. The concept of the firewall would be to allow free movement within the firewall, but only provide certain virtual points of entry where ISPs could then filter and block sites it deemed illicit. Such a firewall would require huge resources in order to be created and maintained.

European ISPs argue that the burden of blocking and maintain these blacklists and blocking those sites should not be placed on them. Not only would such a firewall cost ISPs millions of euros to filter all content, but also that they shouldn't be held responsible for dealing with illegal content. ISPs claim that illegal content should simply be removed at the source because networking blocks can be circumvented. One interesting thing to note is these sites can easily get new IP address from their web host providers. With an increasingly limited supply of IPv4 addresses, wasting IP addresses and having IP addresses that are blacklisted and unusable may not be economically feasible.

There are many issues that arise with a firewall. For starters, who decides what is considered "illicit" content. While illicit content can be shared by means other than the Internet, there is no censorship with other forms of communication like the telephone. Furthermore, judicial review should be required to determine whether a site should legally be blocked. Otherwise, who is to stop this blacklist to be used to suppress freedom of speech or other human rights? With such a mechanism installed, the EU could easily begin to block sites simply based on the fact that sites post information that member countries find politically unfriendly. A EU firewall meant to block illicit site is a slippery slope to blocking any site without reason or judicial oversight.

Top legislators have also argued that the firewall, and Internet censorship in general, can be used to shield children from content online. However, many now say that education and awareness are better ways to protect children. Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes says that "We cannot, and should not, put our children and youngsters in a digital glass cage, hoping they will never encounter any harmful or illegal content online. This will simply not work."

Many are now pushing new initiatives to make the Internet a safer place without an all-encompassing Internet block. These include parental control tools, age-rating systems, and general education to inform children about what is online. Kroes continues saying "But we must also remember that building safety also means building trust: trust in our children and youngsters that they have the intelligence, capacity and maturity to use these wonderful instruments in a positive and empowering way."