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Blocking antiporn ban protest mails was justified, European Parliament president says

Loek Essers | April 10, 2013
Blocking protest emails ensured the functioning of the Parliament's email services, the president said

The President of the European Parliament has justified filtering 457,325 protest emails sent to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) -- 106,771 of them from the same address -- as necessary in order to ensure the functioning of the Parliament's email services.

Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström complained to the President last month after the Parliament's IT department blocked emails relating to a report, "Eliminating gender stereotypes," that the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee was due to present to Parliament. The emails were protesting a ban on online porn that the report was expected to propose.

In the report, the committee asked the European Commission to consider drawing up legislation to eliminate gender stereotyping in the European Union. Parliament approved the report, but not before controversial parts of the text were dropped. Point 17 originally called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism. This proposed ban included the Internet, according to civil liberty groups. The line was ultimately deleted from the report.  

While the proposed ban on online porn was always unlikely to pass, digital rights group EDRI and Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge asked civil liberties advocates to lobby their MEPs. This resulted in MEPs' inboxes being swamped with emails protesting the report, prompting the Parliament's IT service to install a filter.

Engström wrote to European Parliament President Martin Schulz about a month ago to complain about the filter, saying that deliberately blocking emails from genuine citizens wishing to contact their elected representatives was completely unacceptable.

The problem, according to figures provided by Schulz in a reply published by Engström on Monday, is that those sending the emails were not just contacting their own elected representative, but all of them.

In total, 708,683 messages concerning the report were received from 850 different email addresses, averaging 800 emails per address, Schulz wrote. "One single email address was responsible for sending 106,771 emails to the European Parliament," he said, with the number of mails sent to the Parliament about the topic reached 500 emails per minute at one point, most of them coming from two main servers.

In order to guarantee the functionality of the European Parliament's email system, one of the essential services offered to the Parliament, it was decided to install a filter to reduce the number of external emails relating to the report on "Eliminating gender stereotypes," wrote Schulz . The filter blocked 457,325 such messages, and 251,358 were delivered, Schulz said.

"Considering that the European Parliament receives on average 250,000 emails from external senders per day and that in addition 230,000 emails concerning the report on 'Eliminating gender stereotypes' were received, this is a strong indication that the European Parliament is being targeted by mass emails," Schulz said.

 

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