Today, the European Parliament passed the Consumer Protection Cooperation regulation. Unfortunately, it contains an overreaching general website blocking provision. Additionally, consumer protection improvements were watered down or removed completely in last-minute trilogue negotiations with the Council.

cc-by Stephan Caspar

According to the new rules, national consumer protection authorities can order any unspecified third party to block access to websites without requiring judicial authorisation.

This forces internet access providers to create a website blocking infrastructure, which risks being abused later on for any number of other purposes, including censorship. To give a recent example, independence-related websites were blocked in Catalunya just weeks ago. These actions could only be taken so quickly because website blocking infrastructure had previously been put in place for other purposes, such as barring access to sites involving copyright infringement.

The version of this rule that was now adopted was proposed by the member state governments in the Council, who pushed to go even further than the Commission had originally proposed.

When the Parliament was finding its position on the issue in March 2017, I successfully proposed that the last resort measure must be removing content that infringes on consumer protection laws, not blocking access to websites, and that fundamental rights must be safeguarded by requiring prior judicial authorisation.

Tragically, the Parliament’s negotiator, MEP Olga Sehnalová from the Czech Social Democrats (S&D group), agreed to a compromise that adopted the Council’s proposal on website blocking.

The compromise also watered down other consumer protection measures:

  • Consumer compensation made voluntary: The original proposal would have given consumer protection authorities the power to order traders to compensate consumers that have been harmed. The trilogue outcome essentially makes such compensation voluntary by subjecting it to ”the trader’s initiative”. The Dieselgate scandal, where US consumers were compensated and European consumers were not, has shown how important it would have been to give consumer protection authorities the power to order compensation.
  • No restitution of profits: Under the original proposal, consumer protection authorities would have received the power to restitute illicit profits, obtained as a result of infringements of consumer protection laws. These could have contributed to the scandalous underfunding of consumer protection bodies. The trilogue outcome deletes this without substitution.

I filed last-minute amendments to try to fix these issues in today’s plenary vote – but unfortunately, they were voted down. As a result, the Greens/EFA group and I voted against the new law.

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  1. 1

    Say Julia, won’t this be unconstitutional in a lot of members states? And as a tactic: could it not be abused to get rid of it? E.g. targeting a lot of large businesses until they sue?

  2. 2
    Jan Jansson

    Good work, you really tried your best! It is tragic that EU, which should be a simple organization for free trade, always works to get more power, or as in this case, to enable less freedom on the behalf of the citizens of Europe. This piece of news really troubles me. I do hope that this will not lead to censorship, although I fear that it will do just that. Good luck with your future work!

  3. 3

    Like what you do

  4. 4

    You say:

    > national consumer protection authorities can order any unspecified third party to block access to websites without requiring judicial authorisation.

    But when I read the text it says: “where no other effective means are available”

    Am I wrong to understand that as: website blocking without judicial authorization is not permitted if other means are available. As in only permitted, if the website owner can’t be sued or prosecuted, because he/she is allegedly a Nigerian royalty? So how does it apply to websites owned by people willing to show up in a European court.

    I’m not fan of website blocking, but I see few alternatives to fight faceless scammers. Perhaps a voluntary arrangement with CAs, but that’s hard to establish. Or work with browser vendors. Or give up.

  5. 5
    Thijs Berman

    Good work Julia!