EU media chief rules out Internet freedom law

STRASBOURG, France Tue Feb 3, 2009 12:34pm EST

European Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris, July 17, 2008. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

European Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris, July 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

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STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - A European Union law to reinforce freedom on the Internet would be unnecessary and put operators in a difficult position, the bloc's top telecoms and media regulator said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Congress has drafted a Global Online Freedom Act. Some European Parliament members want the EU to follow suit, saying authoritarian nations are increasingly censoring the Web by blocking sites and intimidating users with "cyber police."

Such actions violate human rights, the EU lawmakers say.

The American law would promote freedom of expression on the Web and protect U.S. companies from coercion to participate in repression.

"Should the EU have specific legislation on Internet freedom? I am not convinced so far that hard law is the best way to deal with the challenge," EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding told a meeting in the European Parliament.

Instruments sought by some campaigners such as export controls, civil and criminal penalties, and the creation of a specific EU body controlling European Internet companies with operations abroad were "heavy," she said.

"I believe that we should not put European companies in an invidious position where their choice appears to be to break the law or leave the market to more unscrupulous operators," Reding said.

"Rather, our goal should be to find ways to allow operators and service providers to respect human rights without doing either," she added.

Reding said the U.S. State Department and Department of Justice were cautious about the Global Online Freedom Act as even democratic countries in Western Europe could be subject to restrictions foreseen in the draft bill.

U.S. companies have called instead for a code of conduct setting out minimum corporate standards related to Internet freedom.

Suggestions that EU money could be used to research and develop anti-censorship software were attractive and would be followed up, Reding said.

(Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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