Netizens' rights secured through legislation in the Netherlands

Netizens' rights secured through legislation in the Netherlands

Netherlands became the first country of the European Union to pass the Net Neutrality legislation on May 9, 2012 establishing a legal framework in support of net neutrality. The new law sets out a list of six circumstances in which an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can disconnect or suspend the Internet access of subscribers.

These include termination at the request of the subscriber, non-payment by a subscriber, in cases of deception especially deception at the level of identity of a person, at the expiry of a fixed contract, and if the ISP is required to terminate by law or a court order.
The provisions while protecting the rights of the users also permit blocking of an Internet connection where necessary for the integrity and security of a network. Article 1(3a) of the Framework Directive states that European Union member states may only adopt measures interfering with citizens' ability to access and use the Internet in limited circumstances.

In particular measures may only be imposed if they are appropriate, proportionate and necessary within a democratic society, and their implementation shall be subject to adequate procedural safeguards in conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and general principles of Community law, including effective judicial protection and due process.

Why net neutrality? Network neutrality is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet access without discrimination between different kinds of content and applications while guaranteeing a level playing field for all websites and internet technologies.

The biggest cable and telephone companies would like to charge money for smooth access to websites, speed to run applications, and permission to plug in devices. All this will be a thing of the past in Netherlands. Given the fact that the internet was designed as an open medium, discrimination from state or business groups, endangers basic Internet freedoms. Traditionally, network owners have built a business model by charging consumers for Internet access.

Net neutrality ensures that innovators can start small and dream big without facing insurmountable hurdles. No provider will be muscled out of the marketplace. The state will stay away from all controls. Without net neutrality the free-flowing Internet as we know could very well become history.
Refrain from tapping: It is in this context one needs to look at the Dutch law. The provider of a public electronic communications network in the provisions of the Dutch Law is expected to refrain from tapping, listening, or other kinds of interception or surveillance as well. Exceptions are made in cases where the subscriber has provided his explicit consent for these actions. Besides, the provider may resort to tapping in exceptional cases to ensure the integrity and security of the networks and services or to comply with a legislative provision or a court order.

Even in these cases the provider has to provide the subscriber the type of data which is being tapped, listened, intercepted or surveilled, the purposes for which the data are being tapped, listened, intercepted or surveilled, the duration of the tapping, listening, intercepting or surveilling of the data.

Protection to Users: The provisions protect Internet users against ISPs adopting voluntary or semi-voluntary measures, such as policies to disconnect Internet users.  The law simply did not happen. The Dutch law comes after vigorous campaigning by civil society groups.

Thanks to that active campaign, the law permits end-users to decide what content they want to send and receive, and which services, applications, hard­ware and software they want to use. The purpose is to maximise choice and freedom of expression on the Internet.  

The restriction on the behaviour of providers of Internet services is necessary to ensure open and unrestricted access to the Internet for citizens and business. Internet access service providers cannot block or restrict specific information or services.

It is net Socialism: All said and done, net neutrality is nothing but net socialism. The explosive growth of the internet for the last two decades was possible because governments largely stayed out of it.

The providers did try to control by competing against each other in the name of quality. At a time when  the freedom of the internet is under threat due to telecommunications’ companies hampering with web access, competitions among business groups, attempts by  governments through anti-democratic means the Dutch legislation is a piece of good news.

The state and governments especially in Asia and Arabian countries have decided to control the web precisely because of its democratic potential to awaken, to arouse and organise people and make states accountable.  

(The writer is a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla)

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