The European Commission has proposed that websites containing child pornography should be blocked across the European Union and that maximum sentences of five to ten years should be imposed on human traffickers.
The measures are part of a legislative package to combat human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children announced by Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, in Brussels today (29 March).
Malmström also announced that the Commission will appoint an anti-trafficking co-ordinator “very soon”.
Blocking websites is controversial among the member states, whose endorsement, together with that of the European Parliament, is needed for the two directives to take effect. Officials expect fierce disagreements among member states and MEPs as they debate the draft directives, which are likely to be watered down in the process. However, under the Lisbon treaty individual member states can no longer block legislation in the field of justice and home affairs.
Malmström said that she would now work with MEPs and member states to impress on them that acting on these “heinous crimes” was imperative. She said that both Spain and Belgium – the current and next holder of the EU’s rotating presidency – were “eager” to move on the matter. She said that the power to block access to websites would be limited to child pornography and would not be used to block other content.
“Child pornography is not about freedom of expression,” she said.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green MEP, has called on the Commission and the Council of Ministers to “abandon their plans for an EU internet censorship directive”.
“Filtering certain content on the web is counter-productive for the real take-down of illegal websites and constitutes a threat to liberal democracy,” he said. “There is a slippery slope from filtering child abuse and other illegal websites to filtering unwanted or politically unfavourable content.”
Malmström said that blocking websites was not a “substitute for removing content” but a pragmatic measure to prevent people from seeing it. She pointed out that the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Italy already had similar measures in place. “It works in practice,” she said.
The proposals would leave it up to member states to determine the exact methods with which to block access but would set up legal safeguards to ensure that they were effectively blocked. The draft trafficking directive also foresees improved support for victims, including the provision of shelter and medical and psychological assistance.
EU sex tourists would face prosecution in their home country if they abused children outside the EU, and prohibitions on contact with children imposed by one member state would be effective across the EU.