EU Parliament Takes Up Its Next Attempt To Wipe Out An Open Internet: Terrorist Content Regulation Vote On Wednesday

from the can-we-make-this-disappear-in-an-hour dept

For the past few weeks and months I’ve been warning people that if you were worried about the EU Copyright Directive, you should be absolutely terrified about the EU Terrorist Content Regulation, which has continued to march forward with very little attention compared to the Copyright Directive. We’ve detailed the many, many problems with the Terrorist Content Regulation, starting with the requirement that any site (even a one-person blog somewhere outside of the EU) be required to take down content within an hour of notification by an ill-defined “competent authority,” but also covering other aspects, such as requiring mandatory content filters.

When the EU Parliament’s civil rights committee, LIBE, moved the proposal forward last week, it stripped out some of the worst aspects of the law, but left in the 1 hour content removal requirement. And the largest group in the EU Parliament, the EPP, has already put forth amendments to bring back all the other bad stuff in the proposal. As MEP Julia Reda notes, the EU Parliament will now vote on the Terrorist Content Regulation on Wednesday, and that will include votes on bringing back the awful stuff as well as amendments to hopefully remove the ridiculous and impossible one hour takedown requirement. Reda is explaining why EU citizens should call on their MEPs to support an amendment to remove the one hour removal requirement:

Unfortunately, the unreasonable Commission proposal that illegal terrorist content must be taken down within one hour remains the default in the report adopted by the LIBE committee (see Article 4). The only exception to this rule is for the very first time a website owner receives a removal order from an authority, in which case they get 12 hours to familiarise themselves with the procedure and applicable deadlines. Afterward, regardless of platform size or resources, they must react within one hour in order to avoid harsh penalties. These penalties may amount to 4% of a platform?s turnover in case of persistent infringements (see Article 18).

A one-hour deadline is completely unworkable for platforms run by individuals or small providers, who have no capacities to hire staff tasked with handling potential removal orders 24/7. No private website owner can be expected to stay reachable over night and during weekends in the unlikely event that somebody uploads terrorist material. Their only realistic option available would be the automation of removals: Terrorism filters through the back door.

Blindly deleting or blocking flagged content without review is bound to lead to the deletion of legal uploads, such as a news report on terrorism that shows footage from a war zone, which may indeed be illegal in another context. Already today, there are plenty of examples of overzealous administrative authorities flagging perfectly legal material as terrorist content (Note: Unlike the title of that post suggests, these notices didn?t come from an EU agency, but a French national authority). Thus it?s imperative that websites of all sizes have the necessary time to review reports.

A joint attempt by the Greens/EFA and GUE groups to give providers more time to react was rejected by the LIBE Committee. Amendments by Greens/EFA, GUE and the S&D group will be put to the vote on Wednesday once more to try to get rid of the unworkable one hour deadline.

Separately, talks about the issue of upload filters that were in the original proposal, but removed by the LIBE, only to be re-introduced as an amendment by the EPP Group:

We managed to push back on upload filters, which are included in the Commission proposal in Article 6. The text adopted by the LIBE Committee makes explicit that the state authorities who can order platforms to remove material they consider terrorist content cannot impose obligations on web hosts to monitor uploads, nor to use automated tools for that matter.

Instead, the text calls for ?specific measures? that hosts can take in order to protect their services (see Article 6). These measures can range from increasing human resources to protect their service to exchanging best practices (see Recital 16). But regardless of the measure chosen, hosts must pay particular attention to users? fundamental rights. This clarification is a major victory, considering that the introduction of upload filters seems to be the main objective of the European Commission proposal.

The EPP is against this change and has tabled amendments that would re-introduce the possibility for authorities to force platforms to use upload filters. The plenary must reject the EPP?s pro-upload filter amendment 175 and adopt the LIBE position against upload filters (Amendments 84 to 89)!

Finally, there is the question of whether or not platforms should have their private Terms of Service elevated into the equivalent of law under the proposal. Again, LIBE got rid of this, but the EPP wants to bring it back:

In addition to having to act on removal orders, platforms were to receive ?referrals? of content that may or may not be considered terrorist content, which they could then voluntarily assess not by standards of law, but their self-set arbitrary terms of service (see Article 5). Rightfully, the LIBE Committee realised that this would set a dangerous precedent for the privatisation of law enforcement and deleted the provision. While platforms will still undoubtedly make mistakes when removing content, they will at least have to judge by definitions of illegal terrorist content the EU set two years ago.

The EPP group has tabled amendments to try to re-introduce Article 5. On Wednesday, we will have to make sure that Article 5 stays deleted!

Given what we’ve already seen with the Copyright Directive, it will come as little surprise to suggest that there’s a very real chance that the EU Parliament will approve a horrific version of this bill that will make it effectively impossible for any smaller website to operate within the EU without facing massive liability. For a site like our own, under some of these proposals, we would literally be required to hire someone in the EU to be on call 24 hours a day to pull down content. And while I’m sure various “services” would spring up to represent non-EU based websites, in what world am I going to be comfortable giving direct access to all of Techdirt’s servers to some random person in the EU in charge of pulling content down as soon as anyone requests it?

Reda and I spoke about this a bit on last week’s podcast, and while I know there’s reasonable fatigue about all of these attacks on the internet (especially from the EU), it is really important to at least try to stop yet another awful law.

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Comments on “EU Parliament Takes Up Its Next Attempt To Wipe Out An Open Internet: Terrorist Content Regulation Vote On Wednesday”

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Look on the bright side

"that’s racist"

True. More appropriate to state that correctly worded we could rid ourselves of any inflammatory or marginalizing religious content irrespective of denomination.

Right after which we would find ourselves also rid of everything holding any form of personal opinion at all.

The issue with applauding a…"terrorist"…content legislation which puts a condition on free speech completely subject to government arbitration is that in half the countries in europe today such legislation would immediately be used to suppress fully legitimate minority views.

That the commenter specifically targeted abrahamic religion is more concerning over that issue rather than over any racist bias or wording in the comment.

Anonymous Coward says:

we would literally be required to hire someone in the EU to be on call 24 hours a day to pull down content.

For 24/7/365 coverage, at least 5 people are required, and preferably at least 10, so that there are normally at least 2 on duty, and one if one of the next shift call in sick, wreck their car or otherwise fail to turn up.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Actually, a company could perform this function for many clients, thus reducing the cost, much like an answering service does for after-hours calls."

Not really, no.

An answering service only has to take down names and settle easy problems.
Here we are discussing staff which needs to be in hand 24/7, viewing EVERY new article or comment and trying to use their own highly subjective standards as to what, exactly, would be considered "terrorist".

Is someone calling for a secession of the Basques, the Kurds, or the United Kingdom a terrorist? Tricky, because in two cases of the above that’s actually the primary goal of two acknowledged terrorist organizations despite the opinion in question being fully legal.

Is an action on the West Bank or Gaza Strip a terrorist act? That depends on whether the reviewer of the article is on one side of that fence or the other.

Is a comment advocating that the US president be tarred and feathered terrorist speech? There are laws on the tablets suggesting that possibility.

And so on. Anti-terrorist laws are in many countries written in response to political knee-jerk reactions and have often been shown to lack basic judicial principles or outright be based on racist assumption.

It’s pretty clear that the services of an answering service won’t suffice. Especially so given that the judgment on whether an article is legally considered terrorist speech will later on be judged by government agents who have an entirely different view on what constitutes "terrorist" content.

The only way to fulfill this legislation is, essentially, setting up a government agency to do the takedowns directly.
So essentially the legislation can only be fulfilled by implementing full-blown government censorship. Or by the platforms canceling ALL uploads and/or comments.

Damien (profile) says:

So what’s stopping those of us who aren’t in the EU from just raising our middle finger at the whole endeavor and ignoring any demands we get from them? I have no physical presence in the EU, no plans to ever have one, and if they keep going down this road no plans to ever visit them in the future. I don’t see how they have any legitimate or enforceable jurisdiction over site operators outside of their borders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because it is more than 550million potential visitors/customers to your website?

If you or your site doesn’t want to comply, then don’t allow your site to be accessed by the EU. Otherwise, yes you have to comply with their laws.

Masnick already stated that this could drive out small websites just like the previous copyright law.

Damien (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

My site is run from a server in Washington state in the US. I’m in Wisconsin, and have absolutely zero physical or business presence in the EU, Russia China, or the Middle East. If someone from the any of those locations accesses my site that’s their prerogative, and they can do so by connecting to my US-based server. Them coming to me doesn’t make me subject to their laws any more than if they flew to the server and connected to it directly. They’re welcome to think otherwise all they want, but this is a basic jurisdiction matter and without being able to threaten my non-existant local assets it’s all bluster.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Nothing wrong with a moderated internet.

There is a lot wrong with trying to moderate every bodies conversations just because they are carried out by electronic means. The actual result will be that most people are silenced because there are not enough moderators to do the job. Note the number of moderators required is related to the number of people communicating online, and not the size of the site, and so lots of small sites is not a solution to the moderator problem..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

First all the profanity gets flagged. Next all slang in 180 languages and 3400+ dialects. Next religion will take a hit. Then codewords like lemon, and potato. Words that breed mistrust between educators and students like this lunch sucks and mud on your face. And then words that involve panic. Words like hot water and disease. It will ALL GET CENSORED!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Legal Terrorist Content

That would be things like:
Trump press conferences
Ajit Pai Announcements
Anything a Telecom or any other Lobbiest says.
Anything a US/EU or other countries Politicians say publicly (all of that is PR crap designed to "uses intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims"). Seems pretty close to the definition of Terrorist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Legal Terrorist Content

So the definition of Terrorism is: "a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims".

So Lawful Terrorism would be, "a person who uses lawful violence (aka police) and intimidation (aka Political Grandstanding), especially against civilians (voters), in the pursuit of political aims".

There is Lawful Terrorism (terrorism without the unlawful part…), which sounds an awful lot like a Politician (ignoring the ‘one who is in politics’ circular definition):, "a person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization."

So I don’t know about you, but to me unlawful violence and intimidation sounds very similar to manipulative and devious.

Thus our Infamous Leader could be considered the biggest legal terrorist on the planet (ok those guys in the EU are in a close 2nd).

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"So what is legal terrorist content?"

Anything calling for secessions? Basques, PKK, and Brexit comes to mind.

Anyone applauding or condemning any form of controversy – nothing concerning israel or palestina, then, no matter which side of the fence you’re on.

Political and/or religious opinion.

Any form of comment using keywords assumed by actual terrorists to get around the restrictive legislation – so, in the end, everything, more or less.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Aid to terrorists?

"How long before ISIS, or whatever the hell the non de jour is, clues in and starts sending automated takedown requests for anything that shows them in a bad light?"

Or worse. Savvy of the proposed law, the trolls in charge of the "islamic state"/IS/Daesh, start using workarounds, describing their proposed actions in other terminology normally used by fully legitimate entities. As a result of which webpages dedicated to home cooking and DIY pages end up blocked én másse.

We’ve already seen hideous examples of this where phone surveillance gone wrong homed in on "keywords" indicating "terrorist conspiracy" – which turned out to be an electrician speaking about wiring and migraine about to blow his head up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Automatic filtering, logrithyms and IPs scared out of their minds with concerns over heated comments and you will have a recipe for red flags and autodialing the government agencies over anything aimed at politics like dissenting views and utter disgust of policies and actions by law enforcement and without a fucking warning they’ll be busting down your front door to put you in shackles. And if your lucky enough to live through the first few days of incarceration, you just might get to speak to your attorney.

That is what is going to happen when AI screens the comments. It will have direct link to all the agencies. Goodbye yellowbrick road.

Anonymous Coward says:

One Answer Is Firewall Rules

For sites that can’t afford the staff to avoid the risk of prosecution (or annoyance) by nation-states, one defense is to DENY access to the site via firewall rules. Keep the ban lists updated for IP Address ranges allocated to EU entities and ban them all. Alternatively, REDIRECT all requests originating in the EU to a "Sorry, you’re not welcome, due to…" page. Raise public awareness in the EU.

Build a TOS page that explicitly declares users from the EU as personae non grata under current EU laws. Any EU agency that demands anything should be advised that their access to the site is an evasion of server-enforced rules – very possibly criminal under international cyberlaw – certainly a violation of the TOS for the site.

Heck, this could be the basis for a new business model…providing subscriptions to hourly-updated IP Address lists for DENY/REDIRECT rules for any particular collection of geographic, national, or political entities.

How long will the citizenry of the EU tolerate becoming increasingly fenced out the non-EU Internet?

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