Anti-terrorist regulation

An upcoming European law pretexts fighting terrorism to silence the whole Internet

In September 2018, under French and German influence, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online.

This new regulation will force every actor of the Web’s ecosystem (video or blog platforms, online media, small forums or large social networks) to:

  • Block in under an hour any content reported as “terrorist” by the police (without a judge’s prior authorisation), and therefore to be on call 24/7.
  • Anticipate police requests by detecting on their own illicit content using automated filtering tools.

Websites that don’t respect these rules would risk a fine of up to 4% of their revenue.

On 8 April 2019, the LIBE Committee (for “Civil Liberties”), which had been chosen within the European Parliament to work on the regulation, adopted the text with some modifications. In particular, the possibility for authorities to impose automatic filtering has disappeared. However, the text still contains provisions that are extremely dangerous to our freedoms.

The text still provides that an authority (administrative or judicial) may order any actor of the Web to block within an hour any content reported as “terrorist” by that authority. The new LIBE text provides that, in the event that the hosting provider has not yet received a removal order, the authority must try to contact it at least 12 hours before issuing the order. However, this precision does not really change much, as a 13-hour deadline is often just as unrealistic in practice as a one-hour deadline.

Delegating Censorship to the Web’s Juggernauts

From a technical, economic and human standpoint, only a handful of actors – the Web’s Juggernauts – will be capable of complying with such strict obligations.

Other actors (both for or not for profit) will have no other choice than to either shut down their operations. The text will reinforce the domination of Web giants who are already working with states to implement mass censorship. This is the very purpose of this regulation, which was proposed in September by the European Commission, with the objective of extending to everyone moderation tools (automatic filtering and blocking lists) developed by Facebook and Google since 2015.

These global corporations will therefore become the judges of what can and cannot be said on the Internet. The Web’s rich, varied and decentralised nature will not survive this.

Censorship of Political Discourse

Under European Law, the notion of “terrorist” offense is purposely broad, covering things such as acts of piracy or mass destruction of property (or the simple threat of doing so) with the goal of influencing political decision-making or destabilising institutions.

Giving an administrative authority and not a judge the power to decide what is “terrorist” content can easily lead to the censorship of political opponents and social movements. If the text voted by the LIBE Committee provides that this authority must be independent, this is not enough. Each Member State has its own interpretation of the notion of independence. In France, the government considers that the public prosecutor is an independent authority, whereas the European Court of Human Rights has ruled otherwise.

The obligation to censor content in one hour, with the threat of heavy fines, will have the effect of encouraging Web actors to censor any potentially illegal content upstream, by adopting the broadest possible definition of terrorism to avoid any removal orders that cannot be satisfied in practice.

A Useless Law

This “anti-terrorist” regulation will not even provide the means to reach the stated goal: preventing groups such as ISIS or Al Qaida from spreading their propaganda to people already enticed by their [[horrible]] rhetoric.

It verges on the absurd to have to repeat this once again: on the Internet, any censorship law can be evaded by motivated individuals who want to access censored content. As a consequence, the only effect this law will have will be its collateral damage: the general public may no longer be subjected to terrorist content (and this is a strong “may”), but it also will not be in a position to know what information is being abusively hidden from them, as will inevitably happen. Both inefficient and infantilising, this regulation fails to address its stated objective.

This Text Must be Rejected

Under the guise of technological solutionnism, this regulation plays on the fear of terrorism to further control freedom of speech on the Internet and limit possible opposition.

We must demand this text be rejected.

  • State censorship must only be ordered by a a judge
  • The obligation to remove content within one hour is unrealistic and can only be respected by a handful of players – the Web’s giants.
  • The fight against terrorism must never be a pretext to censor political opponents

The text, as voted by the LIBE Committee, must now be debated and voted by all MEPs. This vote will take place in the plenary session of the European Parliament from 15 to 19 April.

Let’s call our MEPs to let them hear our thoughts on the matter.

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Summary of our arguments

  1. a judge’s prior authorisation is an essential safeguard against political censorship
  2. the notion of “terrorism” is so broad that, left to the interpretation of private actors, it will lead to political censorship
  3. the obligations provided in the text are so strict that every actor of the Web will have to submit to the moderation tools developed by Facebook and Google, thus reinforcing their monopoly and harmful power

Answers to the counter-arguments

  1. “only obvious terrorist content will be censored”
    • the only way to guarantee it is to provide for the independent control of a judge
  2. “the regulation does not explicitly provide that content will be censored without the prior authorisation of a judge”
    • nor does it require that censorship be authorised by a judge; the notion of independent authority will be interpreted broadly by each Member State, as is the case for the public prosecutor in France
  3. “The Internet favors terrorist radicalisation”
    • the only studies available on the subject explain that there is no evidence for such a claim; and this regulation will never be able to technically prevent DAESH or Al Quaeda to communicate with their supporters
  4. “we cannot do nothing against terrorism”
    • it is not a reason to endanger our liberties only for a symbolic gesture, in a haste and just to have a text before the European elections

You may call MEPs from Monday to Friday, preferably between 9 AM and 6 PM. If a Parliamentary Assistant answers your call, don’t hesitate to talk to them about the issue, asking them to share your thoughts with their MEP. Also, remember assistants are usually polite young people, doing their job, and treat them politely.

You can expect all MEPs and their assistants to speak English. Even if English is not your fist language, do not worry, most of the time it isn’t their first language eihter. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk to them: as a person living in the EU, you are legitimate in expressing your concerns.
Furthermore, a simple conversation is enough: “Hello, my name is […]. I am calling about the Anti-Terrorism Regulation. I think it will destroy freedom of speech. There must be no censorship without the authorisation of a judge. Internet censorship must not be outsourced to Internet giants. I urge you to reject this text. Please know that I will watch your decision. »

Thanks a lot for your help!

More information

Read our full analysis.

Read our common-letter against, signed by more than 60 organisations. (PDF)

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