Blocking RT and Sputnik: implementation in Austria leaves many questions unanswered

Blocking RT and Sputnik: implementation in Austria leaves many questions unanswered


Internet service providers have to decide which websites should be blocked and how. ISPA sees freedom of expression at risk and calls on the federal government to sharpen up. […]

The implementation of the EU sanctions regulation, which will be adopted in Parliament today, leaves Austrian Internet providers at a loss. After it was decided at EU level to partially block the Russian state media RT and Sputnik in Europe, Internet providers must also block their websites – but without a clear definition of which websites are exactly affected by this and in what technical form they must be blocked. This could have been clarified in the national legislation.

Harald Kapper, President of ISPA (Internet Service Providers Austria), says: “Since neither the law nor an authority clearly stipulates this, Internet providers now have to interpret which websites should actually be blocked on the basis of the regulation. This means that private companies are forced to make sovereign decisions that are otherwise rightly reserved for the state. This is not only an imposition on companies, it is also a threat to freedom of opinion and information – and an unjustified one at that, in Germany there is a clear list of the competent authority in advance, which pages are affected. It is absurd that the Austrian Internet providers now have to orient themselves, among other things, to the German list without gaining the necessary legal certainty.“

ISPA President Harald Kapper: “With criminal threats of up to 50,000 Euros, it must at least be clarified beforehand what is punishable at all. Kafka would have been delighted.“

In addition, the law does not even technically clarify how these blocks should be carried out. Either the domains or the IP addresses of the respective websites can be blocked. If you block IP addresses, there is a risk that numerous legal websites that have the same IP address will also be blocked, the so-called overblocking. “The Internet providers must therefore either take the risk of being punished for blocking completely legal websites as collateral damage of the war, or be punished for not blocking enough extensively. In the worst case, a company could even face both penalties at the same time. Kafka would have had his joy,” says Kapper.

The only positive thing for ISPA is that, after all, the competent authority is no longer the many individual district administrative authorities, but with KommAustria a central authority – which, however, also does not receive a legal mandate to create a blocking list that ensures legal certainty. “From the providers’ point of view, however, the TKK responsible for telecommunications agendas would have been closer in terms of content, since it also decides on possible penalties for violating net neutrality.“

Kapper: “The federal government must sharpen the law and replace costs.“
At the current state, therefore, no one is authorized to decide in advance in terms of content which websites are specifically covered by the sanctions, but in any case, violations in one direction or the other threaten a penalty. Kapper says: “It’s like being fined for speeding while driving a car, but you don’t find out what the speed limit is until the police stop you. In the case of criminal threats of up to 50,000 euros, it must at least be clarified beforehand what is punishable at all. Ultimately, shifting this onto the courts is an outsourcing of the competence of the legislature. However, the companies bear the risk. We call on the federal government to sharpen up on this urgently.“

“And then there is a second problem: this means that the approximately 400 Internet providers in Austria have to rebuild the censorship infrastructure necessary for this. Once this infrastructure is in place, there could easily be censorship desires for lesser purposes in the future. We strongly warn against this, because this is about fundamental rights. But even apart from this fundamental socio-political question, the establishment of the censorship infrastructure is already causing very concrete and completely surprising costs. A serious policy must of course compensate for this,“concludes Kapper.

* ISPA – Internet Service Providers Austria is the umbrella organization of the Austrian Internet industry. It was founded in 1997 as a registered association and represents around 220 members from the areas of access, content and services, among others, to politics, administration and other bodies. The aim of ISPA is the promotion of the Internet and the communication of market participants with each other.

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