Europe Doubles Down, Now Demands 1 Hour Removal of Terrorism

It seems Europe is not done cracking down on the Internet. They are now demanding platforms police content and search for terrorism.

Last week, Europe passed copyright reform laws that would create link taxes and force platforms to implement content filters that do not even exist. These laws are sparking fears of a digital rights crackdown that would see only the top tier platforms survive. Many are pointing out that this fight isn’t over. In addition to this, key politicians are admitting that they have no idea what they passed when they voted for those laws in the first place.

While the copyright reform process is heavily criticized and controversial, it seems that Europe isn’t done yet in the realm of digital rights. Another piece of legislation is being considered that would give platforms a mere 1 hour to remove content deemed to be terrorism. The legislation also calls on platforms to actively police their content, searching for said content. Should these platforms not comply with these restrictions, they could face fines in the order of millions of dollars.

These requirements are sparking concerns about personal privacy. EDRI is saying that these issues are worth monitoring given the climate Europe is already in with the notorious copyright filters already pushed through:

This means that for the first time, the Commission is proposing the possibility of an explicit derogation from Article 15 of the e-commerce Directive which prevents governments from requiring internet companies to monitor everything we say and publish online.

The proposed Regulation follows the release of a Communication on removal of online illegal content in 2017, a similar Recommendation in March 2018, pressure on the Commission from Germany and France in April 2018 and the September 2018 deadline for the implementation of the Terrorism Directive that already covers blocking and removals of terrorist content.

Further, the proposed Regulation builds on the internationally criticised EU’s headlong rush to implement one-size-fits-all automated content filters to somehow solve diverse types of illegal content online. This is a topic that will not only, it appears, serve as a fruitful platform for European election candidates, but also as a normalisation discourse on the privatisation of law enforcement in the hands of internet giants.

EDRI also points out that there may be a lot of politics involved in this as well – particularly from Germany and France.

The move has been widely criticized elsewhere. The Electronic Frontier foundation (EFF) says that the anti-terrorism legislation and the copyright reforms being pushed represents dark days ahead for digital rights in Europe:

It also comes at a trepidatious moment for pro-Internet voices in the heart of the EU. On the same day as the vote on these articles, another branch of the European Union’s government, the Commission, announced plans to introduce a new regulation on “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. Doubling down on speedy unchecked censorship, the proposals will create a new “removal order”, which will oblige hosting service providers to remove content within one hour of being ordered to do so. Echoing the language of the copyright directive, the Terrorist Regulation “aims at ensuring smooth functioning of the digital single market in an open and democratic society, by preventing the misuse of hosting services for terrorist purposes”; it encourages the use of “proactive measures, including the use of automated tools.”

Not content with handing copyright law enforcement to algorithms and tech companies, the EU now wants to expand that to defining the limits of political speech too.

And as bad as all this sounds, it could get even worse. Elections are coming up in the European Parliament next May. Many of the key parliamentarians who have worked on digital rights in Brussels will not be standing. Marietje Schaake, author of some of the better amendments for the directive, announced this week that she would not be running again. Julia Reda, the German Pirate Party representative, is moving on; Jan Philipp Albrecht, the MEP behind the GDPR, has already left Parliament to take up a position in domestic German politics. The European Parliament’s reserves of digital rights expertise, never that full to begin with, are emptying.

The best that can be said about the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, as it stands, is that it is so ridiculously extreme that it looks set to shock a new generation of Internet activists into action – just as the DMCA, SOPA/PIPA and ACTA did before it.

If you’ve ever considered stepping up to play a bigger role in European politics or activism, whether at the national level, or in Brussels, now would be the time.

Meanwhile, the Guardian also has coverage of the legislation in question. The article points out what kind of fines social media platforms face should they be accused of non-compliance:

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will be forced to take terrorist content off their sites within an hour or face multimillion-pound fines under EU proposals.

Julian King, the British security commissioner in Brussels, said there had been a shift in the nature of terror attacks, with people being increasingly radicalised and then receiving instructions online. He said digital material played a part in every attack in European in the past 18 months.

A voluntary code of conduct on the removal of terrorist content had not been taken up widely enough and it was vital those who failed to act to clean up their sites received a “big sting”, King said in an interview with the Guardian.

The European commission is proposing legislation to ensure all member states bring in sanctions against those who repeatedly fail to respond to the new removal orders within an hour of them being issued, with platforms facing penalties of up to 4% of their global revenue.

With the threat of continual surveillance as well as legislation that would tighten copyright laws to the extreme, this will no doubt represent a potentially huge turning point for digital rights in Europe. Will lawmakers crack down on Internet freedoms under the guise of stamping out terrorism and piracy or will European citizens be able to pull the region from the brink? One thing is for sure, lawmakers are certainly playing with fire here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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