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Internet Freedom under pressure in Denmark

On 27 May the Danish Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision which obliges internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to websites that may contain – or link to other sites which contain – material which infringes copyrights (the Pirate Bay in this instance).

The decision has rightly been criticized as a setback for internet freedom in Denmark. The decision attaches undue weight to the interests of copyright holders while ignoring obvious dangers of abuse, restrictions on internet freedom and access to information and the lack of any due process. The decision may lead to the blocking of websites that mainly includes content that does not infringe copyright and thus restrict the free flow of information. Moreover, by forcing ISP’s to police the Internet without due process the decision marks a dangerous precedent that is likely to include other “illegal” or “offensive” material in the future.

The Supreme Court’s decision is only the latest instance of a wider trend towards internet regulation in Denmark (ranked as the country with the freest press in the world by Reporters Without Borders).

In 2005 The Danish police set up the so-called Child Pornography Filter in co-operation with the Danish NGO Red Barnet (Save the Child). When Red Barnet and the Police identify web-sites that contain child pornography the police informs ISPs and request them to block access to these sites with no prior warning or hearing. The sites blocked by the filter are kept confidential by the police. In 2008 Wikileaks leaked all the sites blocked by the filter which seemed to show that several sites were either inactive or contained material that had nothing to do with child pornography.

Earlier in 2010 the Danish parliament (Folketinget) passed a law, which will allow the tax authorities to notify ISPs of web sites operated by “unauthorized” providers of online-gambling. ISPs will then be requested to block access to such sites. Should the relevant ISPs refuse or fail to do so they will be subject to criminal liability. No courts or tribunals will review the decisions of the tax-authorities nor will the owners of the relevant websites be heard prior to a decision. It is an open question whether this law violates the Danish constitution’s prohibition against censorship and/or the European Convention on Human Rights’ protection of freedom of expression and access to information.

Several Danish lawmakers have proposed wide ranging restrictions on Internet access. Earlier in 2010 the Socialist Peoples’ Part proposed criminalizing surfing on “terror related web sites” and the Danish Peoples’ Party has twice proposed banning www.psychedlica.dk a website dedicated to sharing information about drugs. According to media reports the Danish governments has also been very active in keeping the ongoing Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations confidential. According to leaks from the ACTS negotiations the current ACTA draft envisages intrusive measures likely to threaten internet freedom and the right to privacy.

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