The world wide web started it’s life in the laboratories of CERN in the early 1980s.  In the years to follow censorship seemed a completely unlikely, indeed there were very few closed doors anywhere.  I remember logging into the University of Wales library system using telnet and was surprised when I was prompted for a password – then realizing it was actually blank.  However times have changed and now filtering, blocking and censorship are commonplace even among liberal democratic nations. It’s not only countries and states though, you even need a VPN to access something like UK TV from France – read this!

Inside much less than a decade, the Web in Europe has certainly evolved from a virtually unfettered environment to just one in which filtering in the majority of countries, particularly throughout the European Union (EU), is the norm rather than the exemption. Compared with a number of the nations in other regions which block out Web content, the rise of filtering in Europe is notable because of its deviation from a powerful culture of democratic processes and a commitment to free expression. Filtering comes about in a variety of varieties, including things like the state-ordered take- down of prohibited content on domestically hosted Web sites, the barring of illegal content hosted overseas, and the filtering of results by online search engine pertaining to unlawful content.

As in most nations around the world that engage In filtering, the distinction between voluntary as well as state mandated filtering is to some degree blurred in Europe. In many instances filtering by Internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, and content providers in Europe is labelled “voluntary” but is carried outwith the implicit understanding that collaboration with state powers will help prevent further regulations on the issue. The scope of illegal web content that is filtered in Europe mostly is limited to child pornography, racism, and material which encourages hatred and terrorism, although more recently there have been proposals and modifications of laws in some countries that deal with filtering in other areas such as copyright and gambling.

Filtering also occurs on account of defamation laws; this particular practice has been criticized, specifically in the UK, for curtailing lawful online behavior and supporting an excessively threatening notice-and take down policy, where ISPs comply by removing content immediately for concern of legal action. ISPs in Europe do not have any kind of general obligation to monitor Internet use and are protected from liability for illegal content by regulations at the European Union (EU) level, but must filter such web content once it is brought to their notice. Therefore the degree of filtering in member states relies on the efforts of governments, police, advocacy groups, and the general public in determining and reporting illegal content.

Initiatives over the past years have been underway to create a set of common plans and strategies at the EU-level on Internet policy. This is viewed as required to promote regional competitiveness and business, to counter Internet crime and terrorism, and to offer as a platform to share best practices among nations. Notable advancements in policy at the EU level– even though not directly in the area of filtering consist of the interpretation of ISP liability toward illegal content and responsibilities toward information retention.