Anti-terrorism Censorship : Second Setback at the European Parliament

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In the European Parliament, the two committees that were asked for an opinion on the terrorist content Regulation have now both published their proposition of amendments. Sadly, just like the opinion of the IMCO Committee last week, the opinion of the CULT Committee brings no real progress from the freedom-destroying proposal of the EU Commission.

Read our dossier on this Regulation.

Yet, the rapporteure for the CULT Committee, Julie Ward (UK, S&D), begins the opinion by explaining the threats of this text, which we have been stressing for months now: the one-hour delay in which the police can impose any service provider to remove a content it considered as “terrorist”, the elimination of the role of the judicial authority, the possibility for the police to impose proactive measures to hosting service providers (in particular automatic filters), the huge financial penalties for all the actors of the Internet that will not respect these obligations…

But almost none of these concerns are materialised in the final text adopted on Monday by the Committee. On the contrary.

Regarding the one-hour delay, the Committee wants to replace it by “without undue delay”. What could be seen as a first good step disappears instantaneously as we read the following addition made by the opinion: “Member States may provide that where a terrorist content is manifestly harmful or constitutes an immediate threat to the public order, hosting service providers shall remove or disable access to the terrorist content from the moment of receipt of a duly justified removal order”. So, strangely, they managed to make it more dangerous, leaving to Member States the possibility to provide their police with the power to order instant removal of content. Again, as we have been repeating it in all our articles, only a handful of actors are capable of complying with such a strict obligation : the Web’s Juggernauts. When we thought that the EU Commission had issued a text impossible to worsen, the CULT Committee has just defied our expectations.

No real progress either for the competent authority which can order these removals: the text states that the authority can be a judicial authority “or an independent administrative authority with the relevant expertise”. Such a broad definition could include a lot of administrative authorities and there is no doubt that some Member States will interpret this notion in their best interests. Article 6 in which the competent authority can impose proactive measures is also still here, as well as the financial penalties (it is only changed from 4% of the hosting service provider’s global turnover to 2%…).

Such timid modifications will not change the core problems of the regulation: compulsory proactive measures with the threat of heavy fines will have the effect of encouraging online actors to adopt a broad definition of terrorism. It will lead to mass censorship and the submission of the whole Web to the moderation tools developed by Web’s giants.

Final steps

It is now up to the LIBE Committee to vote its version of the text that will be presented to the European Parliament. MEPs from this Committee and shadow rapporteurs are meeting regularly to find compromises, with the intention to adopt a final position during the vote on the 21 March. We fear the worst: the compromises that we have been able to read are not good at all, in fact just as bad as the CULT opinion. It still provides no judicial authorization, replaces the one-hour delay by an eight-our delays (which does not change anything) and still promotes automatic filtering…

It is now all the more necessary to call your MEPs. We have provided a dedicated page on our website with an analysis of this regulation and a tool to contact the MEPs.

Call your MEPs. Demand the rejection of this text.