European online counter-terrorism group considering widespread surveillance

Leaked document from European Commission project raises concerns

A leaked document from a project set up by the European Commission to fight terrorism online reveals suggestions for wide-ranging surveillance.

The CleanIT project was set up to create voluntary guidelines to stamp out terrorism online, but a document leaked on Friday reveals that some of the suggestions would greatly hamper civil liberties.

The "recommendations" advise that ISPs should be held liable for not making "reasonable" efforts to use technological surveillance to identify terrorist use of the Internet. They also urge companies to filter employees' Internet connections and say that "it must be legal for police to patrol on social media."

Other issues that are up for discussion include making it illegal to "knowingly provide hyperlinks to terrorist content on websites", allowing only "real common names" when registering with an "Internet company." Another suggestion is that "social media companies must allow only real pictures of users."

European digital rights group EDRi, which posted the leaked document, says all this amounts to a blueprint for large-scale surveillance of citizens. "CleanIT is also duplicating the work being done by the CEO Coalition, which is aimed at child protection. Both are, independently and without coordination, developing policies on issues such as reporting buttons and flagging of possibly illegal material. And they have both discussed upload filtering, to monitor all content being put online by European citizens," said Joe McNamee of EDRi.

CleanIT's website includes a "public" version of the recommendations of the group, which are quite different from the document posted by EDRi. However, But Klassen, CleanIT project leader said that the private document was just food for discussion, despite the fact that it is entitled "Detailed Recommendations Document."

"The term 'recommendations' on the food for discussion document is misleading, we shouldn't have used that term. These are just ideas that we are collecting. Everything everyone says at the meeting is written down, but the public document contains the points that we have reached a consensus on," said Klassen.

"There is no secrecy," he continued, explaining that when all the points have been discussed the two documents will look very much the same. However the group will have a challenge on its hands as it has to present its final proposals by next March.

Klassen also refuted allegations by EDRi that the project has overstepped its mandate.

CleanIT's next meeting is in October.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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