Antiterrorism Censorship: Macron teams up with the Web giants to set up mass surveillance

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Two months ago, the European Commission published a proposal for a Regulation on terrorist censorship. We denounced it, explaining that this project would destroy the entire decentralized Web. Since then, we have met the French Ministries in charge of the file: our fears have increased.

France, with the support of Germany and the European Parliament, will do everything to prevent a democratic debate on this text: the government does not talk about it in the press, wants to force its urgent adoption and invokes “national security secrets” to avoid any facts-based debate.

Why so many secrets? Probably because this text, written with Google and Facebook, will submit the whole Web to these giants, to whom the State is already selling out its role in the fight against terrorism online. The collaboration announced on Monday by Macron between the State and Facebook is just a small, but revealing, step towards such a broader alliance.

As a reminder, this text, published under the influence of France and Germany, is using the pretext of the fight against terrorism to submit every hosting service provider (and not only the Web giants) to extremely rigorous obligations:

  • the removal within one hour of all content notified as terrorist by a national authority (in France, it will be the police service responsible of cybercriminality);
  • to have a point of contact that can be reached 24/7;
  • to proactively prevent the dissemination of terrorist content before they are even reported; if a provider is not efficient enough, the national authority may impose specific measures, including the monitoring of all content.

From a human, technical and economical perspective, only the Web giants that are already applying these measures (since they collaborate with European police services) will be able to fully comply with these obligations: Google, Facebook and Twitter firstly. The other actors will have no other choice but to close down their hosting services or (less likely but just as serious) to outsource the execution of their obligations to the giants.

This text sanctifies the delegation of State powers (surveillance and censorship) to a handful of private and hegemonic actors. However, the Commission and Member States are not able to explain, in the 146 pages of the Impact Assessment, how these obligations could be really effective in the fight against terrorism.

See our analysis (PDF, 1 page).

An impossible debate

These last few weeks, we have met the French Ministries in charge of drafting and negociating the text in Brussels. It appears that the French government, leader on this subject, wants to convince other Member States and EU institutions to adopt the text as it is written today, and in a very tight schedule (adoption before the European elections in may 2019) to prevent any democratic debate on this subject.

Everything suggests that the European Parliament is ready to collaborate with Member States to get this text adopted without any debate. Helga Stevens (Belgium, ECR), principal rapporteur on this text, has published in June, and on her own initiative, a report displaying the same ideas included in this Regulation.

The “shadow rapporteurs” (the MPs nominated by their political party to negociate the text) are also mostly in favor of this position, like Rachida Dati (France, PPE) and Maite Pagazaurtundua (Spain, ALDE) who have been advocating for a long time the idea of such censorship. Eva Joly (France, Greens) had accepted, without hesitation, private censorship in the last antiterrorist Directive, finally adopted at the beginning of 2017. It seems that, this time, the text goes too far for her and we hope that she will know how to fight against it.

However, in view of the European elections, there is no political party in the European Parliament that appears to be ready to fight against the security strategy of the French government, in connection with Germany and other Member States. While this text seems to be directly inspired by the authoritarian politicies set by the Chinese government to control the Internet, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are revealing that their “humanist axis” highlighted in the European elections campaign is only a political stance. This draft Regulation is a serious insult to the European democratic project.

Replace the State by the Web giants

When we said to ministries that their text would destroy the entire decentralized Web, leaving only a handful of giants in charge, we were led to understand that, yes, precisely, that was the goal.

Quietly, our interlocutors told us that Google-Youtube and other Web giants had convinced the government that terrorist radicalisation was facilitated by small and medium-sized platforms, and that it was therefore necessary to leave Web regulation to the giants, the only ones supposedly able to manage it. Where are the proofs that this radicalisation would be easier outside their platforms? Nowhere. The Government even shamelessly used the argument of classified information, completely out of place, to hide its lack of evidence and to show its total disrespect for any idea of a democratic debate. It is like that: Google said it, do not argue.

Let it be clear: the arguments of Google and Facebook are simply aimed at destroying their competitors. In fact, this text aims at making small and medium-sized platforms disappear, and to outsource massive and automated censorship to the giants.

Emmanuel Macron got happily convinced, delighted by the idea that the “de-civilized” Internet he fantasizes about is finally run by a few companies, whose power is built on the illegal exploitation of our personal data.

This was clearly reaffirmed in his speech at the Internet Governance Forum.

Macron does not care about destroying any hope of a European digital economy. He just wants a “security text” that he can display during the European elections (his “mid-terms”), in order to flirt with a part of the population worried about terrorism and that he thinks stupid enough to fall into the trap. In his delusional arrogance, he is no longer afraid to deny his pro-Europe or pro-business voters, nor the population attached to liberties that have elected him, thinking they were rejecting the far-right.

In this matter, the terrorist threat is manipulated to transform the Web into a GAFAMonopoly, to ratify the merger of the State and the Web giants, and thus to sanctify the mass surveillance and automated censorship of our online exchanges. All this for what? To fight against a fantasized self-radicalization whose proof would be classifed (how convenient!), while experts reports on this subject demonstrate that most of terrorists did not radicalise on the Internet.

The only effect of this text will be the reinforcement of the Web giants and the excesses of the attention economy: the over-dissemination of hate and aggressive content which capture our “available brain time”. The emergency is to fight against these excesses, to limit the attention economy while promoting the development of a Web respectful of our liberties. This is what we propose.

We demand the rejection of this text! The fundamental conditions for the decentralised Web are at stake.