Tech & Rights

Free Speech Advocates Urge EU Legislators to Vote 'No' to Automated Censorship Online

The EU is considering new legislation which could seriously endanger free speech. More than 60 human rights and journalist organisations have written an open letter to all Members of the European Parliament urging them to reject this text.

by LibertiesEU

The regulation, which would apply throughout the EU if agreed, incentivises online platforms to use automated tools, like upload filters, to remove content that is deemed to be of a ‘terrorist’ nature. It is impossible for automation to differentiate between parody, satire, educational material and actual terrorist content. There is a strong chance news content or evidence of war crimes or maltreatment of minorities gets removed automatically, harming our ability to get informed or freely express ourselves.

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Most worrying, any EU country can issue a removal order of online content hosted anywhere in the EU within the hour, without any checks or judicial review. 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. 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. The regulation also doesn’t solve disagreements among EU countries over what constitutes terrorism, irony, art, or journalistic reporting.


During the plenary of 26-29 April in Strasbourg, MEPs will have to vote for or against a Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online. Our coalition urges the European Parliament to reject the proposal, as it poses serious threats to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom to access information, the right to privacy, and the rule of law. Moreover, it will set a dangerous precedent for any future EU legislation regulating the digital ecosystem by distorting the law enforcement framework under the pretext of strengthening the Digital Single Market. The proposed Regulation as it stands now has no place in EU law.

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The letter sent to MEPs reads as follows.

Download language version: Dutch. English. French. German. Italian. Polish. Romanian. Spanish. Swedish.


Dear Member of the European Parliament,

We are writing to you to share our concerns about the European Union's proposal for a Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online. We urge the Members of the European Parliament to vote against the adoption of the proposal.

Since 2018, we, the undersigned human rights organisations, journalists associations and researchers, have been warning against the serious threats to fundamental rights and freedoms in this legislative proposal, especially for freedom of expression and opinion, freedom to access information, right to privacy and the rule of law.

Thanks to the work of the European Parliament’s negotiations team, an extended debate and the involvement of civil society, a number of problematic issues of the proposal have been addressed during the trilogues between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

However, despite the outcome of the last trilogue negotiation, the final text of the proposed Regulation still contains dangerous measures that will ultimately weaken the protection of fundamental rights in the EU. It also has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for online content regulation worldwide.

The proposed Regulation is headed for a final vote in the plenary of the European Parliament in April 2021. We urge the Members of the European Parliament to vote against the adoption of the proposal for the following reasons:

1. The proposal continues to incentivise online platforms to use automated content moderation tools, such as upload filters

The short timeframe that the proposal imposes on providers to remove content considered terrorist strongly incentivises platforms to deploy automated content moderation tools in order to delete terrorist content, such as upload filters. Current content moderation practices are characterised by a profound lack of transparency and accuracy of automated decision making. Because it is impossible for automated tools to consistently differentiate activism, counter-speech, and satire about terrorism from content considered terrorism itself, increased automation will ultimately result in the removal of legal content like news content and content about discriminatory treatment of minorities and underrepresented groups. Platforms already remove massive quantities of content documenting violence in war zones, uploaded by survivors, civilians, or journalists, as tracked by the Syrian and Yemeni Archives, which can hinder accountability efforts. The proposed Regulation, which lacks safeguards to prevent such practices when automated tools are in use, will only reinforce that trend. Upload filters may additionally have an adverse effect on the Internet, especially with regards to its open architecture and interoperable building blocks.

2. There is a severe lack of independent judicial oversight

The proposal calls on Member States to designate at their discretion “national competent authorities” that are vested with the powers to implement the Regulation’s measures, notably the issuance of removal orders. While the proposal states that these authorities must be objective, non-discriminatory, and rights-respecting, we nevertheless believe that only courts or independent administrative authorities subject to judicial review should have a mandate to issue removal orders. The lack of judicial oversight is a severe risk to freedom of expression, assembly, association, religion and access to information. It also subverts the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which protects the freedom to receive and impart information and says that lawful expression is protected and should only be limited subsequently, by a court and upon legitimate request.

3. Member States will issue cross-border removal orders without any checks

According to the outcome of the trilogue, any competent authority will have the power to order the deletion of online content, hosted anywhere in the EU within one hour. This means that one Member State can extend its enforcement jurisdiction beyond its territory without prior judicial review and consideration for the rights of individuals in the affected jurisdictions. In light of the serious threats to the rule of law in certain EU Member States, the mutual trust that underpins the European judicial cooperation might be seriously undermined. Furthermore, the procedure of minimal notification to and verification by the affected state foreseen in the current text does not contain sufficient safeguards against state overreach and abuse of power, and it won’t solve disagreements among Member States over what constitutes terrorism, irony, art, or journalistic reporting.

We urge the European Parliament to reject this proposal, as it poses serious threats to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom to access information, the right to privacy, and the rule of law. Moreover, it will set a dangerous precedent for any future EU legislation regulating the digital ecosystem by distorting the law enforcement framework under the pretext of strengthening the Digital Single Market. Therefore, the proposed Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online as it stands now has no place in EU law.

Access Now, International

Amnesty International

Antigone, Italian

ARTICLE 19, International

Asociația pentru Tehnologie și Internet (ApTI), Romania

Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Belgium

Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgaria

Centre for Democracy & Technology (CDT), International

Chaos Computer Club (CCC), Germany

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), International

Comité de Vigilance en matière de Lutte contre le Terrorisme (Comité T), Belgium

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International

Communia, International

Digitalcourage, Germany

Digitale Gesellschaft, Germany

Digital Rights Ireland, Ireland

Državljan D, Slovenia

Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi), Finland

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), USA

Elektroniks Forpost Norge (EFN), Norway

Entropia e.V., Germany

epicenter.works, Austria

European Digital Rights (EDRi), International

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), International

Fitug e.V., Germany

Föreningen för digitala fri- och rättigheter (DFRI), Sweden

Freemuse, International

Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), International

Global Voices, International

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland

Hermes Center, Italy

Homo Digitalis, Greece

Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuania

Human Rights Watch, International

International Commission of Jurists, International

Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte, Germany

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International

Internet Governance Project, School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Internet Society, International

IT Political Association of Denmark (IT-Pol), Denmark

Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland

La Quadrature Du Net (LQDN), France

Latvian Human Rights Committee, Latvia

Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens, the Netherlands

Liga voor Mensenrechten, Belgium

Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, France

Ligue des Droit Humains, Belgium

Mnemonic, International

Open Technology Institute, USA

Panoptykon Foundation, Poland

Ranking Digital Rights, USA

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International

Rights International Spain, Spain

Statewatch, the United Kingdom

Vrijschrift.org, The Netherlands

Wikimedia Deutschland, Germany

Wikimedia France, France

WITNESS, International

Xnet, Spain

7amleh - The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, Palestine


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Automation and Illegal Content: Can We Rely on Machines Making Decisions for Us?

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