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EU politicians pledge net neutrality and data privacy to gain votes

European Parliament candidates sign "charter of digital rights"

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Some European politicians have pledged to defend net neutrality and data privacy in a bid to get elected.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly voted for by European Union citizens in various member states. The next election will take place this May, and in a bid to win votes nearly 30 candidates so far have signed a pledge to protect digital rights.

The WePromise campaign was launched one week ago by European Digital Rights group EDRi, an association of 35 digital civil rights organizations, and includes a 10-point 'charter of digital rights' that MEP candidates must promise to abide by. In return, voters are asked to sign the pledge to vote for candidates that have made this promise.

Candidates believe that digital civil liberties will be a big issue in the coming elections. "Right now, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, the issue that is perhaps highest on the agenda is to say no to blanket, unchecked surveillance measures. It turns out that spy agencies in the Western democracies have turned against their own population, either with or without the blessing of their respective governments. We need to put a stop to this surveillance society that nobody asked for and that does not help protect us. And we need to do it right now," said Swedish Pirate Party candidate, Christian Engstrom, who was one of the first to sign up.

In all, 13 of the 29 candidates that have signed up are from the pirate parties with the remainder dominated by Green and left wing politicians. The project is independent of political parties. The majority of candidates who have signed up are from Germany, Austria and Sweden.

Turnout in European Parliament as well as national elections in Europe has been low in recent years. But EDRi executive director Joe McNamee believes that technology and social media offer a big opportunity to bridge the gap between voters and their representatives.

"We are proposing one solution to three problems. We are helping to increase the disastrously low turnout at European elections, we are helping to educate candidates about the major digital rights challenges to be addressed in the new parliament and we are creating clear guidelines for the next five years," said McNamee.

More than 350 voters have signed the pledge in the first week, but McNamee says more are needed to incentivise candidates.

"If the politicians actually believed in the cause it's fine, but such a pledge binds the hands of a politician with little guaranteed benefit in return. This, perhaps, is the reason why only one candidate from the U.K. has signed so far," said leading technology blogger Jon Worth.

As well as net neutrality and data privacy, candidates promise to promote free or open source software, to seek an update to copyright legislation, to promote online anonymity and encryption and to push for controls on surveillance and censorship technology.

Candidates who sign up also promise to fight against privatized enforcement outside the rule of law, unlike some politicians in the current Parliament who have backed plans to make ISPs monitor their customers' Internet use. The pledge also calls for politicians to take a stand against blanket, unchecked surveillance measures.

"Surveillance must adhere to international human rights and adequately protect the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Just because it is possible to monitor everything does not make it right to do so," reads the charter.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.



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