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Post-doctoral fellowship at the Oxford Internet Institute

2011 December 8
by breyan

Since November 2011 I am working as a post-doctoral fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute in the UK. The Wiener-Anspach Foundation is funding the research. Currently, I am looking at the evolution of claims and narratives surrounding internet blocking measures in France, Germany, the UK and the European Union. The research aims at offering comparative insights on contentious action around internet regulation in the EU by focusing on the debates surrounding the introduction of website blocking measures to counter the spread of child abuse images on the Net.

Internet filtering or blocking is not just an issue in repressive states such as China. Increasing pressure is placed on ISPs to filter or block content in Western states as well. This may be for normative or moral reasons (e.g. child abuse images, gambling sites or hate speech), security reasons (e.g. the prevention of terrorism) or copyright enforcement (e.g. file-sharing sites). As argued by Deibert et al. (2008: 3 ), “The emerging trend points to more filtering in more places, using more sophisticated techniques over time. This trend runs parallel to the trajectory of more people in more places using the Internet for more important functions in their lives“. While there is general consensus on fighting child abuse for instance, internet blocking poses a series of legal and social questions, notably from a civil liberties perspective.

The cases I am looking at are the UK, Germany, France and the EU, which have all witnessed controversial debates about the blocking of child abuse images. The UK has chosen a self-regulatory approach that consists in ISPs blocking child abuse images when notified by the Internet Watch Foundation. In Germany, an attempt was made to introduce a similar system but did encounter strong opposition, notably from the socialist party (SPD) for constitutional reasons. A bill was introduced and finally adopted despite widespread opposition. Due to changes in the ruling coalition after elections, the website blocking measures have been abandoned. A new bill legislates that child abuse images have to be removed, not blocked, a claim that has been successfully made by the actors rejecting the bill in the first place. On the contrary, in France, opposition to the LOPPSI 2 bill did not succeed as the national assembly allowed the blocking of access to sites with “obvious” child abuse material, without judicial oversight on February 8, 2011. In March 2010, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström proposed a draft directive for “combating sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography” (COD/2010/0064). The proposal stirred vivid debate on whether blocking websites is an effective measure for reducing child abuse.

The idea is to map discourse coalitions and the various arguments that are used in favour or against internet blocking (of child abuse images in the present case) way in which frames are used, adapted and contested over time. I am particularly interested in comparing the frames and concepts mobilised across a series of countries and to see whether civil society advocates succeed (or not) in reframing the debate to their advantage.

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