Terrorist Regulation : the EU Parliament must oppose authoritarian censorship

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On Monday 11 January, the LIBE Committee (Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) from the European Parliament will vote on the “anti-terrorism” Regulation.

This text (available here – stil not consolidated) aims at submitting all of the actors of the Internet to strict and absurd obligations. The main obligation is to allow the authorities of any Member State of the European Union (whether the police or a court) to force a hosting service provider to remove within one hour content that the authority has considered terrorist.

Introduced in September 2018 by the European Commission, the text was adopted in December 2018 by the EU Council and adopted (with some changes) by the EU Parliament in April 2019. After negotiations in trilogue (between the three institutions), this text is now back in the Parliament for a final vote.

La Quadrature du Net sends the following message to members of the LIBE Committee urging them to reject this text.

Dear Member of the LIBE Committee,

Next Monday, 11 January, you will vote on the Regulation on “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. We urge you to reject this dangerous text which could only lead to mass surveillance of our online communications, to private and automated censorship of information.

First, this text will force any hosting provider to block within one hour any content reported as “terrorist” by a court or the police. The so-called “exceptions” provided in the text are purely hypothetical and will not protect our freedoms in practice.

The one hour deadline is unrealistic and only big economic platforms will be capable of complying with such strict obligations. With the threat of heavy fines and because most of them will not be able to comply whithin the removal orders, this Regulation will force Web actors to censor proactively any potentially illegal content upstream, using automated tools of mass surveillance developed by Google and Facebook.

In France and other Member States, the power to order removal will be given to the police, acting without the prior authorisation of a court. Such a power can easily lead to the censorship of political opponents and social movements.

In France, the very same obligation to remove within one hour any “terrorist” content notified by the police has been deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in June 2020. The Court decided that such an obligation was a disproportionate infringement to the freedom of expression. Adopting this EU Regulation would be in violation with the French Constitution and deeply undermine the trust of French citizens in the European Union.

Secondly, the text that you will vote upon is clearly different from the text adopted by the EU Parliament in April 2019. Article 4 allows an authority from any Member State to order removal in another Member State. Such cross-border removal orders are not only unrealistic but can only worsen the danger of mass political censorship.

Asking Members of the Parliament to vote on such short notice, on such an important text without the time needed to study in depth the impact of such changes can only encourage you to reject this text and to require a truly democratic debate on such complex matters.

Murderous ideologies can only be fought through structural and societal changes. This regulation plays on the fear of terrorism to further control freedom of speech on the Internet and limit possible political opposition.

For these reasons, La Quadrature du Net urges you to reject this text.