Privacy and Fundamental Freedoms Put to Vote


Strasbourg is not only the capital principal city and the capital of the Alsace region in France - it’s also the seat of the European Parliament. Yesterday, March 26, it was the place where the privacy of Internet users and the fundamental freedoms on the Internet was subjected to voting.

Stavros Lambrinidis is a Greek politician who also is a member of the European Parliament. Lambrinidis is the man behind the Lambrinidis report(1), a report written to strengthen security and fundamental freedoms on the Internet. The report was due to be discussed by the European Parliament on March 23, and yesterday it was voted through by a great majority in the "palatial" European Parliament building in Strasbourg. The report is a ”draft report" - or proposal - that is not legislative. The report will, however, be processed further by the European Ministerial Council which can either adopt or ignore it. If the report is adopted by the European Ministerial Council, it will be an important political position. The Lambrinidis report is regarded by many as controversial as it states that the EU should introduce a ban against a systematic surveillance of user activities on the Internet. The report further states that the penalties for the crimes committed has to be proportionate to the magnitude of the crimes. Lambrinidis states that many parties object to that statement.(2)

However, the report, according to Lambrinidis, does not discuss copyright issues or intellectual property rights. It has three main objectives:

  1. Full and safe access to the Internet for all. Lambrinidis
    states that access to the Internet is a fundamental right and that
    there is an imminent risk for the development of a "digital illiteracy"
    during the 21st century if safe access to the Internet is
  2. Strong commitment to combating cybercrime. This
    should be done without infringing on the privacy of users. Lambrinidis
    states that constant surveillance of the Internet activity of
    individuals should not be allowed within democratic societies and that
    principle should be protected at all costs. Lambrinidis illuminates
    that the opening of every letter sent and the sending of directed
    advertisements on the basis of the content in personal letters should
    not be accepted. Yet this continues to occur on the Internet.
  3. Constant attention to the absolute protection and enhanced promotion of fundamental freedoms on the Internet.
    This clause is aimed at limiting the possibilities of collecting and
    archiving data associated with the Internet activities of users.
    Lambrinidis exemplifies this further by pointing to the fact that the
    security police in Greece - 40 years ago - archived the preferences and
    views of common people and that those archives were destroyed when
    democracy made its entry.

Facebook and Information Archiving

Lambrinidis states further that people with Facebook accounts are not able to erase their personal information when they wish to close/end them. He opposes the fact that Facebook has taken the right to archive the information of users - such as personally identifiable information and images - for as long as they please.(2)

The Facebook Privacy Policy(3) states that:

"When you register with Facebook, you provide us with certain personal information, such as your name, your email address, your telephone number, your address, your gender, schools attended and any other personal or preference information that you provide to us."

"When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalized features. In most cases, we retain it so that, for instance, you can return to view prior messages you have sent or easily see your friend list. When you update information, we usually keep a backup copy of the prior version for a reasonable period of time to enable reversion to the prior version of that information."

"Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience."

"Individuals who wish to deactivate their Facebook account may do so on the My Account page. Removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time but will not be generally available to members of Facebook."

Fundamental Freedoms on the Internet Vs. Intellectual Property

Lambrinidis also comments on the ongoing Pirate Bay file sharing trial in Sweden by stating that justice must have its course before views about it are aired.(2)

The International Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED; followed up by IPRED2) is an EU directive that may be implemented by the member states within the EU if they choose to do so. The IPRED2 introduces the possibility to issue severe penalties for illegal file sharing on the Internet. The directive also allows the rightholders – such as the Film and Recording industry - to participate in so-called “joint investigation teams” in order to facilitate investigative work in cases related to intellectual property.(4) The IPRED2 also allows the rightholders to obtain the identities of individuals that conduct illegal file sharing.  This gives the rightholders opportunities equal to law enforcement agencies.(5)  Even if the IPRED2 is stated to propose the punishment of infringements of  “commercial scale” only, the definition of “commercial scale" is left blurry.  The IPRED2 also proposes punishment of activities such as the “inciting, abetting or aiding” of copyright infringement. It could be argued that the IPRED2 is increasing the pressure for Internet censorship as ISPs would be asked to provide information to the rightholders and law enforcement agencies. The IPRED2 may, therefore, even induce an expansion of the filtering of Internet traffic in the search for “potentially infringing” material. Otherwise, even the ISPs risk being prosecuted for the “aiding or abetting” of copyright infringement.(6)

As many popular services risk being criminalized due to the proposed legislation, it could be argued that the IPRED2 limits the digital living space of common Internet users.

It could also be argued that the IPRED2 directive is inducing an increased surveillance of user Internet activities, impairing the freedom of Internet users and thereby advocating the opposite of what is stated in the Lambrinidis report(1):

“proceed to the adoption of the directive on criminal measures aimed at the enforcement of intellectual property rights while simultaneously prohibiting, in pursuit of that purpose, the systematic monitoring and surveillance of all users’ activities on the Internet, and ensuring that the penalties are proportionate to the infringements committed; within this context, also respect the freedom of expression and association of individual users and combat the incentives for cyber-violations of intellectual property rights, including certain excessive access restrictions placed by intellectual property holders themselves”

Lambrinidis is thereby proposing a “balanced” way of dealing with infringements of intellectual property rights, i.e. without interfering with or limiting the privacy of users. He also proposes that the penalties should be proportionate to the committed infringements.

Lambrinidis state that a possible "Big Brother" society - most probably - will be built upon the voluntary consent provided by its residents.(2)

It is my belief that discussions and proposals, like the Lambrinidis report, also serve as wake-up calls for many Netizens who believe that the privacy of Internet users - along with the fundamental freedoms on the Internet - are self-evident rights. These issues should be ventilated thoroughly in an democratic manner.

The future will tell whether the “balancing act” proposed by Lambrinidis is practicable.

LS Pekka

Lavasoft Malware Labs

(1) European Parliament (Stavros Lambrinidis), "DRAFT REPORT - with a proposal for a European Parliament recommendation to the Council on strengthening security and fundamental freedoms on the Internet". h**p:// Retrieved on 2009-03-27.

(2), "EU-politiker vill skydda yttrandefriheten på nätet". h**p:// Retrieved on 2009-03-27.

(3) Facebook, "Privacy Policy". h**p:// Retrieved on 2009-03-27.

(4) Erik Josefsson, "Interpellationsfråga om IPRED2". h**p:// Retrieved on 2009-03-27.

(5) Magnus Andersson, "Musikindustrins lobby lyckades". h**p:// Retrieved on 2009-03-27.

(6) Foundation for information policy research (Ross Anderson), "The Second IPR Enforcement Directive — A Threat to Competition and to Liberty" and "FIPR Response". h**p:// Retrieved on 2009-03-27.