Free Speech Under Threat from EU Campaign Against ‘Terrorist Content’
Originally celebrated for the liberating ease with which people could use it to freely exchange information and ideas, the Internet is now under concerted attack for exactly that quality. In America, politicians and pundits fret over so-called disinformation, misinformation, and extremism, but they’re hardly alone. Across the Atlantic, the European Union is poised to ban “terrorist content” or, more accurately, anything it tags with that label. The end result will be to drive some information underground and to imperil online freedom of expression.
“The EU is working to stop terrorists from using the internet to radicalise, recruit and incite to violence,” the European Council announced on March 16. “Today, the Council adopted a regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online.” The announcement added that “[v]oluntary cooperation with the hosting service providers will continue, but the legislation will provide additional tools for member states to enforce the rapid removal of terrorist content where necessary.”
The proposed regulation, which faces a vote by the European Parliament at the end of April, defines “terrorist content” as anything that “incites” or “solicits” people to engage in terrorist acts, or to participate in terrorist groups. Also included is “instruction on the making or use of explosives, firearms or other weapons” or “other specific methods or techniques” for committing terrorist acts. Elsewhere, terrorism is very broadly defined to include not just violence, but “unduly compelling a government or an international organization.”
Internet companies informed by national authorities of the presence of forbidden information online would have one hour to remove it or block access or else suffer penalties established by individual EU member states. “Particularly severe penalties should be imposed in the event that the hosting service provider systematically or persistently fails to remove or disable access to terrorist content within one hour,” insists the Council.
“This could open the way for authoritarian regimes, like those in Poland and Hungary, to silence their critics abroad by issuing removal orders beyond their borders, effectively extending their jurisdiction beyond their borders,” warns a coalition of 61 organizations which condemned the proposed regulation in an open letter. “Because this must happen within the hour, online platforms will have no option but to comply with these orders to avoid fines or legal problems.”
Poland and Hungary are easy targets for the signers since their governments openly embrace authoritarianism. But they could have just as easily called out France, where the state is increasingly hostile to dissent and protesters took to the streets against a proposed sec
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