Human Rights Groups Plead With The EU Not To Pass Its Awful 'Terrorist Content' Regulation

from the this-will-be-a-disaster dept

While so many people have been focused on the disastrous potential of the EU’s Copyright Directive, we’ve been mentioning lately that another EU regulation, coming up right behind it, may be much more dangerous for the internet as we know it. The EU’s Terrorist Content Regulation is shaping up to be a true horror story, as we discussed in a recent podcast on the topic. As covered in that podcast, the EU is barreling forward on that regulation with little concern for the damage it will do (indeed, with little concern for showing any evidence that it’s needed).

The basic idea behind the regulation is that, apparently, the internet is full of horrible “terrorist content” that is doing real damage (citation needed, but none given), and therefore, any online platform (including small ones) will be required to remove content based on the demands of basically anyone insisting they represent a government or law enforcement authority, within one hour of the report being sent, or the site will face crippling liability. On top of that, the regulation will create incentives for internet platforms to monitor all speech and proactively block lots of speech with little to no recourse. It’s a really, really bad idea, and everyone is so focused elsewhere that there hasn’t been that much public outcry about it.

The group WITNESS, which helps people — be they activists or just everyday citizens — document and record human rights violations and atrocities around the globe, has teamed up with a number of other human rights groups to warn the EU just how damaging such a regulation would be:

Our letter is based on real-world experience of exactly these problems.

In particular, as we note in the letter, Syrian Archive and WITNESS, as well as many of our partners, ?have seen firsthand that use of machine-learning algorithms to detect ?extremist content? has created hundreds of thousands of false positives and damaged [a huge] body of human rights content.?As Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, ??By placing the burden on companies to make rapid decisions in order to avoid penalties, this regulation will undoubtedly result in censorship of legitimate speech. That includes content essential ?for prosecutions or other accountability processes across borders or in conflict situations.? The proposal ignores the incredible work of human rights defenders and journalists who ?risk their freedom, safety, and sometimes even their lives to upload videos for the purpose of exposing abuses to the world. Without this documentation, we would have little idea what is happening in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, the favelas of Brazil, and elsewhere.? 

Indeed, as we’ve documented, attempts by digital platforms to block “terrorist content” in the past has resulted in the blockade of activists documenting war crimes. No one pushing for these laws has yet explained how one can distinguish “terrorist content” with “documenting war crimes,” — and that’s because those two are often the exact same thing, even if used for a different purpose. But any law that requires technology filters to “block” such content will simply not be able to comprehend the difference.

The letter also highlights how — as we saw with Russia copying Germany’s anti-“hate speech” law — authoritarian regimes will use these kinds of laws to justify “similar” laws that are actually used to suppress dissent:

In addition to devastating the processes being used to create and preserve human rights content, this regulation will harm some of the most vulnerable groups in the world by inspiring dangerous copycat regulation that will be used to silence essential voices of dissent. This is not hypothetical, as Germany?s NetzDG law is already inspiring replicas in authoritarian countries, including Russia. The impact of the European Union on global norms should be a net positive, especially in the face of a rising tide of political repression, violence and fascism. This regulation hinders efforts to fight that tide.

One hopes that EU regulators can understand this and back away from this disaster of a proposal, but the recent record of the EU and legislation regarding the internet does not suggest we have much to be hopeful about.

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Comments on “Human Rights Groups Plead With The EU Not To Pass Its Awful 'Terrorist Content' Regulation”

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32 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Only if one of those persons is brain-damaged. This is a really terrible saying that needs to die, as the difference between the two is trivial and the false equivalence only serves to cause real harm by downplaying the threat of actual terrorism.

A freedom fighter is someone who fights against an oppressive regime, with the goal of gaining freedom.

A terrorist is someone who acts to circumvent the political process by inspiring terror and fear in the people he hates. His principal target is not an enemy government; it is civilians, those most vulnerable to both physical and emotional attack.

That’s a bright, clear line. When you target civilians, you lose all right to call yourself a freedom fighter and become a terrorist instead, nothing more than a rabid beast to be hunted and put down.

Drunk Uncle Sam says:

Re: Re: Re:

“When you target civilians, you lose all right to call yourself a freedom fighter and become a terrorist instead”

Sorta like those self proclaimed patriots who harass, intimidate and physically attack their fellow citizens due to irrational hate. But there is no such thing as domestic terrorism according to some of our esteemed leaders.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You have no concept what the saying means.

The saying is about perception. Freedom fighters fighting against an oppressive regime don’t exactly have a PR advantage. The Oppressive regime can often control the core narrative through state media or oppressive control over supposedly neutral private media. As such, motivations and targets can often be hard to ascertain.

The government might be intentionally placing civilians in the line of fire. Bad intel might lead to mistakes. most government buildings tend to have some level of civilian presence, including government contractors who can be cast as innocent civilians if the need arises.

The point is not to say terrorists and freedom fighters are indistinguishable, or that the labels are interchangable. The point is to highlight that with the right framing, a freedom fighter can be perceived as a terrorist, or vice versa.

Since the law requires immediate take downs based on reports from just about anyone and does not provide for any exceptions, perception is what matters, not reality. if freedom fighters not targeting civilians are perceived as terrorists, it doesn’t matter if they are terrorists or not. Content must come down. So the saying is a valid criticism of the law.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

*"A freedom fighter is someone who fights against an oppressive regime, with the goal of gaining freedom.

A terrorist is someone who acts to circumvent the political process by inspiring terror and fear in the people he hates. His principal target is not an enemy government; it is civilians, those most vulnerable to both physical and emotional attack."*

"…When you target civilians, you lose all right to call yourself a freedom fighter and become a terrorist instead, nothing more than a rabid beast to be hunted and put down."

I’m reminded here of early jewish zionists who made their mark by running explosives-laden lorries into hotels…
…the firebombing of Dresden in WW2…
…The first two times nukes were used against a civilian population…
…the PKK…
…an assortment of early Wikileaks documents…
…Vietnam…
…Afghanistan (by both the US and the USSR)…
and so on and so forth.

The reason we use the term that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter is because the label is, even in modern times, first applied by a vested interest with an axe to grind.

Usama Bin Laden was our "freedom fighter" until he became our "terrorist" for simply changing the country where he did that thing he did best.

Anonymous Coward says:

given the way the EU has totally ignored anyone and everyone who has pointed out the bad sides to just about every single new law it wants to bring in, there’s more chance of me being accosted by an alien! whoever is writing these new laws has an ulteria motive. he/she/they must have because no one with any sense just keeps ploughing forward with something that is going to do much more harm than good! i still think that everything that is going on stems from the ridiculous ‘right to be forgotten’ law. as soon as some information about something that someone is doing, that shouldn’t be done because of the effects, there are law suits lining up to be lodged. only people who are guilty of something want things covered up and/or excluded from being found out and questioned by others and that is definitely happening in the EU!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If someone carelessly waves a gun around, and upon calling them on it they quickly put it down and protest by claiming that they had no idea that guns were dangerous because they’d never encountered one before and had no idea how dangerous they were, ignorance might be enough to give them a pass that one time.

If however multiple people had been telling them how dangerous it was, it was not the first time they’d done so, and they continue to wave it around, ‘ignorance of the dangers’ ceases to be a believable excuse, and the assumption switches to at a minimum gross indifference to the possible harm their actions might cause, if not malicious intent.

At this point, between the copyright train-wreck and this one, and the sheer stubborn refusal to stop pushing disasters-in-waiting like this, ‘stupidity’ no longer cuts it, though ‘malicious stupidity’ might.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The people pushing these internet killing legislation are Fascists, through and through. They don’t really care about copyright or terrorism. Those claims are simply excuses to hide their depraved desires to ruin the lives of millions. There are evil people in the EU. Plain and simple. They are not your friend, but your enemy.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"At this point, between the copyright train-wreck and this one, and the sheer stubborn refusal to stop pushing disasters-in-waiting like this, ‘stupidity’ no longer cuts it, though ‘malicious stupidity’ might."

I’ve sat down and had a few chats and beers with the guy who Swedish pirate party sent to the EU parliament. I was shocked at what he had to tell. EU bureaucrats are so divorced from the common reality of citizens they are continually in "Let them eat cake" territory.

When the parliamentary bureaucracy found the natives in Brussel were heavily incensed over EU politicians there was actual talk about creating a "citizen-free zone" around the political buildings. An awareness event about european poverty turned into an avant-garde art display where politicians laden with champagne and hors d’éuvres walked around a large art gallery filled with cast-iron statues of beggars while chatting amicably about the latest cod fishing quotas.

On several occasions parliamentary members have advocated a "black box" to be installed in every computer to monitor the citizens for wrongdoing, and made the claim that this "internet thing" is a passing fad for the young.

I guarantee you that you will find both malice and stupidity in the EU, to a point where you’d start looking at the hindenburg regime as a model of dynamic and libertarian policy.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"Lovely, sounds to me like they’ve reached the point where they’re the modern day nobility, concerned only with what will impact them and to hell with the peasants."

That’s exactly it. The EU, and most importantly the high tiers of the bureaucracy, have gone down the deep end of becoming entitled nobility.

And the tours around the ACTA debacle proved full well that the people in the council and commission are not above breaking any and every rule to get what they want, even when the methods are in flagrant violation of the EU charter.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Have you ever hit those ads? You don’t click on anything; the ads contain malicious Javascript that forcibly redirect you, and you don’t know which one it was because there are multiple ads on the page and by the time you get redirected, you’re no longer on the page containing the ad.

I’ve reported these things to TD a few different times, but they still manage to slip through from time to time.

This is why I take an extremely cautious stance on Internet ads: if it does anything other than show static content, if it moves, plays video or sound, or contains any Javascript, for any reason whatsoever, shoot on sight. Nuke it from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Have you ever hit those ads? You don’t click on anything”

No, I can honestly say that I’ve never visited a site that redirected me without clicking on anything. That makes me wonder if some other kind of infection is involved rather than mere Javascript, or it’s an exploit in Windows (it’s been years since I’ve used a Windows machine as my primary platform)

Either way, there’s really nothing for TD to go on with the original comment, let alone pass on to their ad supplier (most of the time, online ads aren’t chosen by the site you see them on but are pushed by a 3rd party who do the work). At the very least, the URL of the site they ended up on rather than “a phishing page” would be useful, even just the name of the entity they were trying to impersonate.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I use neither for daily browsing, so I’d presume it’s the fact that I primarily use MacOS and Ubuntu and don’t have much in the way of plugins installed.

I could just be lucky, but in my experience people who have real problems have tended to be people using a compromised Windows machine. I’m not saying that Mason is definitely in that situation, it’s just an observation based on personal experience.

Anonymous Coward says:

Nothing like taking your rights away, all in the name of Terrorists or Protecting the Children.

In case of this law, just easier to remove your forums. If people can’t post anything, you don’t have to hire lots of people to go through all the messages removing content, JUST IN CASE. Going through it all as fast as possible to make themselves in a 1-hour rule.

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