​Proposed EU Terrorist Regulation Threatens Free Expression

Human rights and digital rights NGOs call on Justice and Home Affairs ministers of the EU to reconsider the proposed terrorist content regulation, as its current form it will harm free speech, journalism, and access to information.

Thirty-two European and international human rights and digital rights organizations – among them Liberties – sent an open letter to ministers ahead of the Justice and Home Affairs Council to be held on the 6-7 December 2018. The signatories express their concern about the European Commission’s proposed ‘Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online’. In its current form, the proposal contravenes the Charter of Fundamental Rights and lacks evidence-based measures that are needed to deliver on the regulation’s stated goals.

Neither justified nor necessary

The letter calls to the attention of decision-makers the fact that the Directive on Combating Terrorism, adopted in March 2017, covers similar areas as the currently debated terrorism proposal. And since many member states did not implement the above-mentioned regulation, its effectiveness has not yet been analyzed.

“Without evidence to demonstrate that the existing laws and measures, and in particular the aforementioned Directive, are insufficient to address the harm of terrorist content online, the proposed Regulation cannot be deemed justified and necessary,” the letter states.

The letter also discussed how the proposed regulation endangers freedom of expression and information in Europe. To start, regulation's definition of 'terrorist content' is extremely vague and broad. This increases the risk of arbitrary removal of, among other things, online content shared or published by civil society organisations or journalists.

Chilling effect

Experts worry about the demanded "proactive measures" on hosting services, which most probably would lead to the application of automated solutions and threaten the right to free expression without redressing mechanisms.

The regulation talks about instant removals of contents by undefined "competent authorities" within an hour of its posting, with no prior authorization or oversight by courts. This will most likely push service providers to overact in order to avoid having these "competent authorities" telling them to remove certain content.

This will mean that a massive amount of legal content will be removed, especially when companies more liberally apply terms of service that already restrict expression that may be distasteful or unpopular, but not unlawful. Paradoxically, this chilling effect on online free speech will undermine the work of law enforcement agencies too, for whom terrorist posts can be useful sources in investigations.

Read the full letter here.