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Don't Shoot the ISPs!

They already have an impossible task.


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Imagine coffee shop owners being held responsible for the conversations of their guests. Or the Road Administration for what motorists do on their highways. These are the demands being placed today on Internet service providers. Freedom of speech suffers as costs skyrocket.

Don't shoot the messengers, says Ann-Marie Fransson of IT&Telekomföretagen, backed up by the CEOs of Sweden's nine biggest ISPs
.

We've had several high-profile cases in Sweden of late where representatives for copyright holders have used the court system to force Internet operators - in the most recent case under the threat of fines - to shut down some of their customers. This is completely unacceptable.

We operators run an infrastructure. To maintain a mode of transportation between two points is the core of the business. These services make it possible for industry, the public service sector, the government, the local municipalities - all of Sweden - to function.

We're all becoming more and more dependent on the Internet. And to a degree that's far greater than the dependence we had 30 years ago on telephony, ten years ago on mobile telephony and beepers. The greatest difference is that with the Internet we can reach everyone at the same time. The benefits of this technology cannot be trivialised. They're witnessed everywhere in our society. And soon we'll have new gadgets, sensors, and control instruments connected to the net, of benefit to our environment and Sweden's competitive edge.

The increase in communication possibilities makes the question of the role of the service provider all the more important. It must therefore be discussed now before new laws and rules make our role impossible.

It's important to point out that it's the responsibility of those using a transport system to follow applicable rules. This is a self-evident and commonly accepted principle of law. Then why doesn't this apply online? You have to wear a seatbelt when driving and your automobile must pass inspection. If you post a package with dangerous contents you must clearly mark it as such. We must all take responsibility for our actions. As a complement to this responsibility the government use control systems. The customs authorities check the post. The police conduct speed and sobriety tests. The legal system rules on secret surveillance.

'The fight against crime shall take place from a broad and relevant civil perspective. Civil rights shall be simple, clear, and predictable. People shall feel the legal system is close to them and exists for them, that laws and rules are reasonable and relevant, and that the legal system functions well and securely.'
 - Swedish minister of justice Beatrice Ask

Internet operators aren't a governmental authority and they don't have the responsibilities of governmental authorities. To see that laws and ordinances follow along into the electronic world is the responsibility of the legal system. To force operators to assume legal responsibility for the traffic on their lines results in unforeseeable effects.

The responsibility of Internet operators is further complicated by the fact that customers purchasing bandwidth often sell it to other parties. The customer becomes a reseller of the operator's transport services. If an operator in such a situation should close down a single customer, tens of thousands of further customers could suffer. Each such action can have serious consequences for both corporations and the society as a whole and it's impossible to accurately foresee the damage it causes.

The worst of it is some people would like to force us to control our customers. And if this trend continues we'll be forced to see that each customer follows strict ethical, moral, and businesslike demands - and this leads to a new bureaucracy. So let's make it clear right here and right now: it is completely unacceptable for operators to be given responsibility for vetting their customers before accepting their custom.

All of this gives us consistently bad effects. Freedom of speech and information are undermined, the costs for operators increase with higher broadband fees and fewer resources for us to build Sweden's Internet.

Imagine the Royal Mail forced to accept responsibility for their customers not posting dangerous materials, coffee shop owners being held responsible for the conversations of their guests, or the Road Administration being held responsible for what motorists do on the highways and having to close down roads where criminals are suspected of trafficking.

'The fight against crime shall take place from a broad and relevant civil perspective. Civil rights shall be simple, clear, and predictable. People shall feel the legal system is close to them and exists for them, that laws and rules are reasonable and relevant, and that the legal system functions well and securely.'

So wrote Swedish minister of justice Beatrice Ask in her office declaration at the chancellery website. But that reality doesn't apply to the Internet, particularly if the current political and regulatory trends are allowed to continue. Demand responsibility from those where responsibility should be demanded. Don't shoot the messenger.

ANNE-MARIE FRANSSON förbundsdirektör, IT&Telekomföretagen inom Almega
ERIK HEILBORN CEO TDC Sverige
GEORGI GANEV CEO Bredbandsbolaget
JON KARLUNG CEO Bahnhof
MIKAEL EK CEO Svenska Stadsnätsföreningen
NICLAS PALMSTIERNA CEO Tele2 Sverige
OLA NORBERG CEO AllTele
ROGER SÖDERBERG CEO BT Nordics
STEFAN TRAMPUS chef för Bredbandstjänster Sverige, TeliaSonera
TOMAS FRANZÉN CEO Com Hem

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