Dutch Prosecutors Putting Pressure On Hosting Companies To Censor Content, Despite It Being Legal

from the that-slippery,-slippery-slope dept

GigaOm points our attention to complaints from some Dutch hosting companies that the government there is increasingly pressuring them to simply remove content claiming that it is “jihadist,” but without any attempt to get a court order or to file criminal charges. We’ve seen this before, of course. The US government effectively forced Wikileaks to scramble for new hosting after pressure caused its hosting providers to pull the plug. Other services are pressured into removing certain types of content as well.

In the story linked above, the Dutch Hosting Provider Association (DHPA) claims that prosecutors are simply going to hosting companies and declaring, without any court order or underlying legal argument, that certain content is jihadist and should be removed. Feeling pressured and threatened, many hosts will simply remove that content. While the content may be incendiary, does that mean that there should be no due process at all? And the very real risk of overblocking doesn’t seem to concern those demanding the content be taken down. The story notes one example of a video of a group of men around a campfire shooting guns — but they note it’s not entirely clear why they’re shooting. And yet, they were told to take the video down.

It’s easy to say “this content is dangerous, take it down,” without recognizing the slippery slope of censorship this creates. No one is defending efforts to recruit people into jihadist groups, but leaping immediately to censorship without due process or any evidence of actual law breaking is not the way to protect a free and open society. It seems very much like the opposite.

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Comments on “Dutch Prosecutors Putting Pressure On Hosting Companies To Censor Content, Despite It Being Legal”

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Anonymous Coward says:

How slow they are to learn

There is no way to “take content down”. Not really. It can be forced off ISP X, censored from web host Y and bullied off blog Z, but in the end, if those behind it want it to be on the Internet, it will be.

Instead of wasting their time trying to censor, these “authorities” should be thinking about root causes and trying to address them. Of course that’s hard work: it requires research and careful thought, it requires the hardest kind of honesty (honesty with one’s self) and it requires difficult solutions, not satisfying but ineffective ones.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Jihad Unspun" unspun

Many of those “jihadist” sites that emerged shortly after the United States’ 2003 military invasion of Iraq turned out to be CIA honeypots, like the famous Jihad Unspun site, which oddly stayed online for years while numerous sites of less provocative content were taken down as ‘terrorist’ sites almost as fast as they sprang up.

In order that the Dutch prosecutors won’t be mistakenly ordering down the fake jihadist sites along with the real ones, we can only assume that they get their hitlists directly from the CIA, which is presumably the only party that knows which sites are CIA fronts and which ones are not.

Lisa Westveld (profile) says:

Yes and no...

Since I’m Dutch and also live in the Netherlands, I know that providers aren’t forced to remove this content. They are just notified about it ang generally decide for themselves that they don’t want to host Jihad messages. Hosting Providers are allowed to block certain content on their servers, especially when they suspect it would attract hackers and other hostiles towards their servers.
Hosters generally have no time to judge the content of sites they host so they rely on external sources to warn them. Basically, these providers have clauses in their policies that don’t allow these kinds of sites. (Hate-speech, supporting terrorism.) But the site ownerd then start complaining so the hosters refer to those orders as a valid excuse.

Lisa Westveld (profile) says:

Re: Re: Anyone can make requests...

Anyone can make such requests. And it’s up to the hoster to decide if the content needs to be removed or not. Most hosters have restrictions in their policies that would ban certain content and would remove it anyways, no matter who reported it.
Leaseweb, a company named in the article has these : General conditions (PDF). Article 12 is about the reasons for suspension of the site/account. And 12.1a is the rule that tells you why Leaseweb will immediately obey once they receive a request. They just blindly obey. They also have an “Acceptable Use Policy” and they might define a Jihad site to be unacceptable.
More hosting companies have similar rules. My own host also has strict rules about the content I host. Even more strict than leaseweb since my host explicitly tells me what content is not allowed. (Basically anything hateful or racist is banned.)

Anonymous Coward says:

There is nothing unethical or legally incorrect by the police working with anyone in a VOLUNTARY relation to resolve issues that have significant legal and public policy issues which are not illegal.

There is nothing ethical or legally correct by the police forcing anyone into a INVOLUNTARY totalitarian relation to resolve issues that have are not illegal.

The issue is “Is it a voluntary or involuntary relationship?”

Lisa Westveld (profile) says:

Not the cops...

These are not the cops making those requests. The Dutch article mentions “opsporingsinstanties” which Google translates to law enforcement. It doesn’t completely cover the meaning, though. There are other government agencies in the Netherlands that have their own inspectors that could do similar things. Our tax office, for example, has similar powers.
For the Internet we have the “Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid” a.k.a. NCTV (National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security) who are not police officers. They’re just government employees who seek out possible threats against the Netherlands or our allies.
The NCTV is just warning companies that their sites have some content that they might not want to support and thus take down. Those companies should then check out the content before deleting it from their servers but unfortunately most of them don’t want to spend time to check it out and delete it immediately.
But basically, the hosting companies themselves are supposed to check if the complaint is justified or not. The NCTV just notifies them that the content might be unwelcome.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not the cops...

Thank you for your insight. I think what bothers Americans is that the idea of a government organ determining what is and is not suitable for viewing by the populace smacks of censorship, even without the power to compel compliance.

Emerging methods for showing displeasure with content seem to be a mixture of savagely mocking contempt and hacktivism; perhaps the NL government and the Dutch ISPs are just being polite.

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