The European Parliament recently passed a proposal to treat Internet censorship by repressive regimes as a trade barrier. The proposal, submitted by Jules Maaten of the rightist Dutch VVD party, passed on a 571-38 vote. Maaten describes it as an "unusual, but effective way" to promote freedom of expression on the Internet.
The initiative targets countries that have enacted heavy restrictions what their citizens can do and see online. First and foremost on the list is China and its "great firewall." The Chinese government is well known for blocking certain phrases and web sites from view within its borders, and has also turned its attention to RSS feeds. The country also "encourages" bloggers to register with the government.
"The 'Great Chinese Firewall' should be seen as an international trade barrier," Maaten said according to Livre. "In addition to American companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, European Internet companies like Wanadoo, Telecom Italia, and France Telecom have to unwillingly censor their services in authoritarian states."
If adopted, Maaten's proposal would require the EU to classify any Internet censorship as a barrier to trade, and would require that the issue be raised in any trade negotiations. Economic sanctions and trade restrictions have been used in the past as means of getting countries to change their policies, but this is one of the first proposals to tie trade to 'Net censorship.
The measure will now go to the European Council for consideration. The Council can either adopt the proposal as passed by Parliament or send it back with further amendments.