• Population: 10,296,000
  • Internet users: 3,400,000 (2002)
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 22 euros
  • DAI*: 0.74
  • Situation**: good.

Belgium is one of the world's 20 countries best-connected to the Internet. By tradition, it strongly respects civil liberties, but it was also one of the first to monitor Internet traffic.

Belgium was one of the first European countries to pass a law obliging ISPs to retain data about their customers' activity. In 2001, even before the 11 September attacks, the length of such retention was increased to one year. However, the royal decree implementing the measure was never issued. So ISPs still do not have to retain this data except for their own billing purposes.

In 1999, ISPs and federal police signed an agreement to combat illegal online content by setting up a hotline to receive complaints from Internet users about child-porn. Many other European countries have followed this example.

Interception of broadband traffic

In April 2004, federal police began testing a system to spy on broadband traffic, using software made by the Israeli firm Nice. It enables Internet phone conversations (VOIP) to be tapped and reconstitution in real time of chat-room conversations or Yahoo! or MSN-style instant messaging. To pick up a specific message, it has to scan all broadband data packets over a certain period. They are then analysed by powerful computers to find messages from the Internet user being monitored and the messages are reconstituted.

Like phone tapping, such surveillance cannot be done without a court order. If the Nice software was permanently installed on the Internet, it would be a big threat to message privacy. Federal police say it will not connected all the time and that such surveillance will only be used occasionally and as part of specific investigations.

Responsibility of website hosts

As a member of the European Union (EU), Belgium is required to incorporate the 2000 EU e-commerce directive into its laws (see chapter on European institutions). In March 2003, two laws were enacted about "certain legal aspects of information society services," which closely follow the directive and (unlike the LEN law in France) ban filtering by ISPs (blocking access to foreign-based webpages) and do not make website hosts directly responsible for online censorship (as they are in France). When illegal content is reported by a user, a host cannot remove the material without permission from the prosecutor-general.


* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.


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