Censorship Regulation: First Setback at the European Parliament

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Yesterday, Members of the European Parliament published a first of two opinions on the “anti-terrorism” censorship Regulation. It is bad. Despite the best intentions of rapporteur Julia Reda, the IMCO Committee (“Internal Market and Consumers protection”) decided not to improve the worst part of the disastrous proposition issued by the European Commission last September.

Read our dossier on this Regulation.

Still no judicial authorisation

According to IMCO’s opinion1IMCO’s opinion is not online yet, but is broadly made of all the amendments (except CA 5A) listed in this document., the government of any European Member State will be able to order any website to remove content considered “terrorist”. No independent judicial authorisation will be needed to do so, letting governments abuse the wide definition of “terrorism”. The only thing IMCO accepted to add is for government’s orders to be subject to “judicial review”, which can mean anything.

In France, the government’s orders to remove “terrorist content” are already subject to “judicial review”, where an independent body is notified of all removal orders and may ask judges to asses them. This has not been of much help: only once has this censorship been submitted to a judge’s review. It was found to be unlawful, but more than one year and half after it was ordered (the decision). During this time, the French government was able to abusively censor content, in this case, far-left publications by two French Indymedia outlets.

Far from simplifying, this Regulation will add confusion as authorities from one member state will be able to order removal in other one, without necessarily understanding context.

Unrealistic removal delays

Regarding the one hour delay within which the police can order a hosting service provider to block any content reported as “terrorist”, there was no real progress either. It has been replaced by a deadline of at least eight hours, with a small exception for “microentreprises” that have not been previously subject to a removal order (in this case, the “deadline shall be no sooner than the end of the next working day”).

This narrow exception will not allow the vast majority of Internet actors to comply with such a strict deadline. Even if the IMCO Committee has removed any mention of proactive measures that can be imposed on Internet actors, and has stated that “automated content filters” shall not be used by hosting service providers, this very tight deadline, and the threat of heavy fines will only incite them to adopt the moderation tools developed by the Web’s juggernauts (Facebook and Google) and use the broadest possible definition of terrorism to avoid the risk of penalties. The impossible obligation to provide a point of contact reachable 24/7 has not been modified either. The IMCO opinion has even worsened the financial penalties that can be imposed: it is now “at least” 1% and up to 4% of the hosting service provider’s turnover.

Next steps

The next step will be on 11 March, when the CULT Committee (Culture and Education) will adopt its opinion. We don’t have high hopes: as we have stated before, the draft opinion of rapporteur Julie Ward was not even as good as IMCO’s.

The last real opportunity to obtain the rejection of this dangerous text will be on 21 March 2019, in the LIBE Committee (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs). European citizens must contact their MEPs to demand this rejection. We have provided a dedicated page on our website with an analysis of this Regulation and a tool to directly contact the MEPs in charge.

Starting today, and for the weeks to come, call your MEPS and demand they reject this text.

References   [ + ]

1. IMCO’s opinion is not online yet, but is broadly made of all the amendments (except CA 5A) listed in this document.