Update 27/10/2009 - I've received several replies - scroll down to read.
After reading EU Parliament's credibility undermined by back track on citizens' rights on the Open Rights Group blog, I was moved to write to my MEPs.
FOR THE ATTENTION OF:
Sharon Bowles MEP
Nirj Deva MEP
Nigel Farage MEP
Caroline Lucas MEP
Marta Andreasen MEP
Catherine Bearder MEP
Peter Skinner MEP
Dear Nigel Farage, Marta Andreasen, Caroline Lucas, Sharon Bowles, Nirj Deva, Peter Skinner and Catherine Bearder,
Regarding Amendment 138. I understand that the lead negotiator, Catherine Trautmann, has reversed the decision of the Parliament.
I confess I have little understanding in how the EU works in this regard. But I strongly urge all of you to use your considerable influence to protect the rights of all EU citizens to a free and open Internet.
The Internet is our generation's printing press. It must not be allowed to become restricted or corrupted by private interest - it must stay free of state interference. Otherwise we run the risk of entering a digital dark ages - where only "official" information is sanctioned and our every move is monitored and recorded.
Please, contact Catherine Trautmann and tell her that the citizens of Europe expect her to respect the Parliament and to fight for the rights of citizens.
Further information on the subject is at http://www.laquadrature.net/en/amendment-138-the-parliament-betrayed-by-its-negotiators
I've had a mixed response when writing to my MEPs. The Anti-European ones are usually very quick at replying - but their replies often take the tone "Everything the EU does is bad - vote for us and we'll stop it". The Greens usually give a detailed response. I rarely hear back from the other parties.
Let's hope this email gets through to enough of them.
Lib Dem MEP Sharon Bowles is the first to reply to me with this very well considered email.
Dear Mr Eden,
Thank you for writing to me regarding the Telecoms Package.
I agree with you that net neutrality is a fundamental freedom. As a
Liberal Democrat I am fundamentally unable to support such restrictions
as you have outlined. In particular motions to grant quasi-judicial
authority to ISPs are a dangerous and illiberal step and an open door to
For some in industry and in the political sphere the internet poses a
threat to the protection of intellectual property. While I understand
that the internet poses new challenges, it is my firm opinion that those
who see the answer to those challenges in repressive restrictions are
profoundly mistaken. It is clear to me that concern for the short-term
bottom line has blinded the entertainment industry to the need to adapt
to the age of file-sharing.
I should mention that despite these serious issues, the overall Telecoms
package is a good one that is mainly concerned with providing a common
regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and
services. It is designed to facilitate access to spectrum for operators,
foster innovation and make European rules on telecommunications more
consistent. It will also enhance competition in the communications
sector and thereby ensure that all market players have sufficient
incentives to invest in infrastructure and customer services.
These are necessary reforms given the advances in the technology and
changes in the market over the past decade, so I regret that the
legislative process has been hijacked to include proposals of this sort
after heavy lobbying by industry.
We are currently at the third and final stage of a legislative process
that has continued now for two years. The European Parliament has
consistently voted by large majorities to ensure that no restrictions
are imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of internet users
without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities. The European Council
has consistently rejected these amendments.
Both Parliament and Council must give their assent if any legislation of
this type is to pass. The strong consensus remains in Parliament that
such restrictions are not acceptable. It is important that the Council
must accept Parliament's amendments to remove all potential restrictions
on internet access and allow the good aspects of the telecoms package to
I have urged those who have written to me in the past on this issue to
petition the British government to change its position on the Council to
support net neutrality and accept Parliament's amendments. I would urge
you to do the same. At present it appears that the government is
listening more to those interested parties who would benefit from
further restrictions on internet use, than it is listening to the
concerns of ordinary internet users who would be affected by such
There remains the possibility that, should no agreement be found,
Parliament may reject the proposal in its entirety. This would be highly
unfortunate for the good economic measures that this package contains
Thank you once again for contacting me on this issue.
Sharon Bowles MEP
Hope I get some feedback from the others...
Update 2 21/10/2009 - the Green Party replies
Thank you for your recent email about the EU’s Telecom Package. Caroline has asked me to respond on her behalf.
The "telecom package" is in reality a set of 5 Directives. The legislative proposals are designed to protect the rights of the consumers with regard to telecommunication services. During the Telecom Package’s First Reading a number of important provisions won support from MEPs, including access to more flexible contracts, better emergency services and improved information about prices and tariffs for telephone users. However, there was less agreement on the critical issues of data protection and ‘unlawful’ use of the internet. You might know that an initial compromise between the EU's 3 institutions was reached ahead of the First Reading vote, but that the issue of net neutrality remained controversial.
The text that MEPs were asked to vote on was open to interpretation and could be used to advocate a "three strikes and you are out" approach against anyone eg downloading music in breach of copyright laws. Greens strongly disagree with the three strikes model or any other similar attempts to restrict internet access. Caroline recognises that important questions are posed by the proliferation of new media, particularly in relation to copyright. However, these must be answered in ways that protect important freedoms and do not curtail the emergence of internet based cultural activity or free access to the internet.
Green MEPs from the Internal Market Committee said:
"Unrestricted access to the internet is an essential right for a functioning information society, which should not be curbed simply at the whim of large media firms. For this reason, the Greens will re-table an amendment (originally amendment 138) to protect citizens' rights and prevent the arbitrary restriction of internet access."
Caroline was delighted that the main "Citizen amendment" was then carried in plenary; this was proposed originally by, among others, the leader of the Greens in the Parliament, and guarantees that an internet user’s connection will not be cut without a prior ruling by a judge. This is a victory for citizen's rights.
Unfortunately, in the other chapter of this telecom package, the Harbour report, the definition of net neutrality is not good enough to ensure that traffic Management Policies cannot be used for anti-competitive purposes. Greens will keep working on these issues during this legislature in order to guarantee protection for net neutrality.
It is also critical that you lobby your MP as national governments, via the Council of Europe, are in favour of significant restrictions and of giving internet service providers and businesses greater powers to eg control information flow or monitor individual usage of the net. Parliament has formulated its conciliation team, who are responsible for negotiating with the Council and seeking agreement on the final text of the legislation. The EU's telecoms ministers have already indicated that the Council would not approve the Citizen’s Amendment so these negotiations will be lengthy. No Green MEPs are part of the conciliation team but Caroline is hopeful that members will fairly represent the view of the Parliament on net neutrality. She shares your concern about any attempt to reverse the decision of the Parliament on amendment 138 and will be working to keep up pressure on the negotiating team to ensure that the MEP’s position is properly reflected in any agreement.
Thank you for taking the time to write to Caroline and please be assured of her commitment to protecting the rights and freedoms of internet users. If you need any further information do not hesitate to get back in touch and you can read more about Caroline’s work at www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk
UPDATE 19/10/2009 - The Labour Party replies
Dear Mr Eden,
Thank you for contacting me about the ongoing negotiations concerning Article 138 of what is known as "the telecoms package". Please forgive my delay in replying to you.
On 6 May the European Parliament adopted its second reading on the proposals that constitute the package and we are now still in discussions with the European Council to reach an agreement on a final law.
Labour Euro MPs are committed to achieving an overall package that delivers real benefits for consumers by opening up competition in the telecoms market, while strengthening consumers' rights and the protection of their privacy.
We have listened carefully to citizens' concerns about the protection of their fundamental rights in the online environment. I agree with you that the internet is an important tool for education, civil society and freedom of speech and that needs to be fostered and protected. This is why Euro MPs inserted amendments making clear that all laws affecting the internet must respect the fundamental rights of citizens. Legal opinions issued by the legal services of the European Institutions make clear that, under the Treaties that establish the EU's powers, European legislation cannot go beyond this, for example by requiring Member States to follow a specific legal procedure. As such these issues remain a matter for national law.
The conclusion of the package is important to deliver many priorities that Labour Euro MPs have campaigned for, including limits on contract length in order to prevent consumers being 'locked in' to a bad deal, the ability to switch your mobile number to a new network within 24 hours and a guarantee of equal access for disabled people to communication services. The final proposal also adopted amendments I put forward that will ensure the 116 000 missing child hotline, a crucial plank in developing an EU rapid child abduction alert, will be set up in every country of the European Union.
Labour Euro MPs will work towards a final agreement on this legislation that maintains these benefits and upholds citizens' rights.
Peter Skinner MEP
MEP for South East England