European Governments agree to outsource Internet censorship to Google and Facebook

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We have never seen an European Regulation adopted this quickly by European governments (less than 3 months!), despite concerns voiced by some Member States1Member States opposed to the current version of the text include Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Denmark.. Macron has obviously convinced them that, as European elections are getting closer, they could maintain their powers by using the everlasting terrorism pretext. Censorship and mass surveillance of the Internet will be the result.

The EU Council has just decided, right now and without any serious debate, to carry a Regulation proposal that will force all Internet actors to submit to mass surveillance and automated censorship tools provided by Facebook and Google2In 2017, the European Commission proudly announced it had been « working over the last two years with key internet platforms including under the EU Internet Forum”, mainly Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft since 2015, “to ensure the voluntary removal of online terrorist content”, notably thanks to “the internet industry-led initiative to create a ‘database of hashes’ ensures that once terrorist material is taken down on one platform, it is not uploaded on another platform”.
Already, “the aim is that internet platforms do more, notably to step up the automated detection of terrorist content, to share related technology and tools with smaller companies, and to make full use of the ‘database of hashes’.
, while allowing the police to order them to remove within one hour content they consider “terrorist”, without the authorisation of a judge.

These two delusional and unprecedent measures will force the entire digital European ecosystem to submit to a handful of giants that the EU cynically pretends to fight (read our analysis), while putting at risk the confidentiality of our exchanges3The situation has a bit evolved since our last analysis on how the Regulation may weaken the confidentiality of our communications. In the version adopted today by the Council, Recital 10 of the Regulation has been amended in a way which looks like an attempt to put private communications out of the text’s scope: “Interpersonal communication services that enable direct interpersonal and interactive exchange of information between a finite number of persons, whereby the persons initiating or participating in the communication determine its recipient(s), are not in scope”.
However, this amendment is a mess and fails to secure anything. Firstly, this modification is not reproduced in Article 2, which defines how the notions of the text. Above all, this modification lacks consistency: “Interpersonal communication services” are already defined in the European Electronic Communications Code (Article 2 and Recital 17) as able to cover some kind of cloud services (typically where a limited number of users use it to exchange documents). But the version of the Regulation adopted today explicitly put cloud services within its scope, while pretending to put interpersonal communications out, leading to a massive confusion.
… All this despite the fact that neither the European Commission nor the governments have been able to demonstrate how this text may be of any use against terrorism4In 2017, UNESCO published a report analysing 550 studies on online radicalisation. The report found that “the current state of evidence on the link between Internet, social media and violent radicalization is very limited and still inconclusive” and that “there is insufficient evidence to conclude that there is a causal link between extremist propaganda or recruitment on social networks and the violent radicalization of young people”. The report underlined that “attempts to prevent Internet dimensions of the violent radicalization of youth do not have proven efficacy, but on the other hand it is clear that they can damage online freedoms, especially freedom of expression”..

Debates on this text will continue before the European Parliament. Next Wednesday, the 12th of December, the Parliament will vote on a report about anti-terrorism, which, even if not a proper legislation, promotes nearly the same absurd measures that the ones provided by the Anti-terrorism Censorship Regulation, which will be debated by the Parliament in the coming weeks.

This first vote on Wednesday will be an opportunity for each Member of the European Parliament to reveal its position on the totalitarian project of Emmanuel Macron. As the electoral campaign for the European elections of 2019 is getting underway, they will be held accountable for this vote.

References   [ + ]

1. Member States opposed to the current version of the text include Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Denmark.
2. In 2017, the European Commission proudly announced it had been « working over the last two years with key internet platforms including under the EU Internet Forum”, mainly Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft since 2015, “to ensure the voluntary removal of online terrorist content”, notably thanks to “the internet industry-led initiative to create a ‘database of hashes’ ensures that once terrorist material is taken down on one platform, it is not uploaded on another platform”.
Already, “the aim is that internet platforms do more, notably to step up the automated detection of terrorist content, to share related technology and tools with smaller companies, and to make full use of the ‘database of hashes’.
3. The situation has a bit evolved since our last analysis on how the Regulation may weaken the confidentiality of our communications. In the version adopted today by the Council, Recital 10 of the Regulation has been amended in a way which looks like an attempt to put private communications out of the text’s scope: “Interpersonal communication services that enable direct interpersonal and interactive exchange of information between a finite number of persons, whereby the persons initiating or participating in the communication determine its recipient(s), are not in scope”.
However, this amendment is a mess and fails to secure anything. Firstly, this modification is not reproduced in Article 2, which defines how the notions of the text. Above all, this modification lacks consistency: “Interpersonal communication services” are already defined in the European Electronic Communications Code (Article 2 and Recital 17) as able to cover some kind of cloud services (typically where a limited number of users use it to exchange documents). But the version of the Regulation adopted today explicitly put cloud services within its scope, while pretending to put interpersonal communications out, leading to a massive confusion.
4. In 2017, UNESCO published a report analysing 550 studies on online radicalisation. The report found that “the current state of evidence on the link between Internet, social media and violent radicalization is very limited and still inconclusive” and that “there is insufficient evidence to conclude that there is a causal link between extremist propaganda or recruitment on social networks and the violent radicalization of young people”. The report underlined that “attempts to prevent Internet dimensions of the violent radicalization of youth do not have proven efficacy, but on the other hand it is clear that they can damage online freedoms, especially freedom of expression”.