MEPs back contested telecoms plan
Letter sent to Virgin Media customer
In the UK some net users have been warned off file-sharing sites
European politicians have voted in favour of amendments to telecoms law which campaigners say could be used to curb privacy online and file-sharing.
Digital rights groups in Europe have formed a loose coalition to highlight their opposition to the amendments.
But MEPs have denied that the amendments are aimed at throwing file-sharers off the net.
MEP Malcolm Harbour, who helped oversee the so-called Telecoms Package, said it was "about improving users' rights".
"There has been a great deal of dismay in the committee at the interpretation being put on these amendments," he told BBC News.
"They have nothing to do with copyright enforcement. The interpretation of them is alarmist and scare-mongering and deflects from the intention which was to improve consumers' rights," he said.
But campaigners say one of the amendments - which could allow governments to decide which software can be used on the web - makes it easier to enforce the controversial "three strikes" law which the music industry is keen to use in order to clamp down on file-sharers.
It would see users receive two warnings if they download copyright material without permission, followed by a complete web ban.
Tentative steps towards such a policy are already underway in the UK with the BPI (formerly the British Phonographic Industry) policing file-sharing sites and informing ISPs of people downloading material illegally.
Virgin Media has sent about 800 warning letters to users and the BPI is threatening to take other ISPs to court if they fail to join the campaign.
France is also about to enact laws that penalise persistent file-sharers.
MEPs voted against Europe-wide legislation to tackle the issue in April 2008.
Campaigners say the changes to the Telecom Packet legislation have more fundamental implications for net freedom.
The Foundation for a Free Internet Infrastructure (FFII) warned that they could create a "Soviet internet" on which only software and services approved by governments would be allowed to run.
"Tomorrow popular software applications like Skype or even Firefox might be declared illegal in Europe if they are not certified by an administrative authority," said a FFII spokesman in a statement.
But Mr Harbour claimed the legislation has entirely more innocent intentions.
"It is about new provisions so that users can find out about new services. It will make price comparison sites easier to set up, it will force regulators to give equivalent access to disabled users and enhance emergency services with caller location," he said.
The vote on whether to approve the Telecom Packet, which is a raft of laws aimed at harmonising European telecoms regulation, takes place in September.