Anti-terrorist Regulation: only a few days left to oppose Internet censorship

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On Monday 8 April, the draft regulation on anti-terrorist censorship will be voted in the LIBE Committee in the European Parliament. While the vote has already been postponed several times, MEPs, still under pressure from the European Commission and some Member States, are expected this time to adopt the text. There are only a few days left to call and ask them to reject it.

Introduced in September by the European Commission, and supported intensively by the French and German governments, this text has gone through the stages of the European legislative procedure at an extremely fast, if not an expeditious, pace: introduced last September by the EU Commission, adopted by the EU Council at the beginning of December, it is now in the hands of the LIBE Committee (for Civil Liberties) at the EU Parliament, after the publication of the (disappointing) opinions of the CULT (Culture) and IMCO (Internal Market) committees.

A new step towards automated censorship

Using the pretext of the fight against the dissemination of terrorist content online, the text aims at submitting all of the actors of the Internet to strict and absurd obligations. The regulation allows the authority of any Member State of the European Union (whether the police or a court) to force a host to remove within one hour content that the authority has considered terrorist. In addition, the text encourages and makes it possible to impose the implementation of proactive measures to combat the dissemination of this content, including automatic filtering tools. All under the threat of heavy financial penalties.

For a full analysis of the text, we have created a dedicated page on our website.

In addition to our articles and our repeated calls to contact MEPs on this text, many organisations and associations have regularly tried to alert governments about the dangers of this Regulation (see again the letter published this morning by Internet “personalities”). This has also been the case (in a more or less moderate way) for some international institutions, including three rapporteurs from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. In vain.

Just a few days after the adoption of the Copyright Directive, which institutionalised automatic filtering for part of the Internet, the European Parliament is about to adopt (at committee level) a new repressive text, this time against the whole Internet. The goal of extending the automated filtering tools developed by Google and Facebook to everyone is not secret and has been clear from the very first discussions of the text. However, recent events have shown once again the absurdity of making the tools developed by the major platforms mandatory: if even the latter have not succeeded in removing (as they boasted about) the content reported following the Christchurch attack in one or twenty-four hours, what would have happened, if this text had been adopted, for small Internet players who do not have the financial and human resources of Facebook and Google? And this when part of the problem could come from the structure and role of these major platforms in the massive distribution of this content.

But the urgency with which this text is being pushed prevents any in-depth discussions.

Always more pressure

Indeed, despite these numerous warnings, the European Commission and some governments continue to put undemocratic pressure on MEPs. The French and German governments sent a letter to MPs two weeks ago stating:

« We believe it is imperative to do everything possible to reach an agreement on this draft text within the few days before the end of the parliamentary proceedings of the current European Parliament term. ».

For the European Commission, this is even more surprising: while the vote was still scheduled on April 1st in the LIBE Committee, Julian King, the European Commissioner in charge of the dossier, wanted it to be voted in the Parliament two days later, on 3 April, to start the trialogues on 4 April…

The latest compromises under discussion in the LIBE Committee are still far from satisfactory. While efforts are being made to ensure that the designated authority is an independent authority (but again, the notion of independence depends upon the interpretation of each Member State), the text still mentions the obligation (impossible for a very large number of actors) to remove content within one hour. More precisely, the authorities would have the obligation to “try to contact” the host twelve hours before the withdrawal order, which does not change much… Moreover, if some members of the LIBE Committee are trying to remove the power of the authorities to impose automatic filtering tools, the latter are still very much present in the text. It even promotes them as essential tools in the fight against terrorism. In any case, as we have been saying for several months, the obligation to remove content in one or thirteen hours, coupled with the threat of a major sanction, will push a large proportion of players to adopt these automatic filtering tools.

It is therefore crucial not to give up on this fight. Reading the press releases of one of the associations that worked to adopt this text, if the subject today is automated censorship, the next one is undoubtedly the encryption of our conversations.

Call your MEPs. Demand the rejection of this text.