Internet firms have one hour to get rid of terrorist content

The online platforms will not be obliged to monitor the information they transmit or store

Photo: EP Daniel Dalton

Terrorist content online should be removed or access to it disabled in all EU member countries by the internet companies one hour, at the latest, after receiving an order from the authorities. This foresee the new rules to tackle the dissemination of terrorist content online across the EU, adopted by MEPs on 17 April in Strasbourg at their plenary sitting. As it was the last session for this EP term, it means that the negotiations with the Member States will be shifted to the programme of the new parliament. 

The text, backed by 308 votes to 204 against and 70 abstentions, underlines that companies which “systematically and persistently fail to abide by the law” may be sanctioned with up to 4% of their global turnover. Lawmakers specified that companies would not be generally obliged to monitor the information they transmit or store, nor have to actively seek facts indicating illegal activity.

British ECR MEP Daniel Dalton, who is rapporteur for the dossier, pointed out that there is clearly a problem with terrorist material circulating unchecked on the internet for too long. This propaganda can be linked to actual terrorist incidents and national authorities must be able to act decisively, he said, adding that any new legislation must be practical and proportionate “if we are to safeguard free speech”. He warned that without a fair process, there is a risk that too much content would be removed, as businesses would understandably take a 'safety first' approach to defend themselves. It also absolutely cannot lead to a general monitoring of content by the back door, the rapporteur stressed.

The proposed rules are softer for the small platforms in a case that they have never received a removal order before. Prior to issuing the first order to remove content that they are hosting, the authority should, at least 12 hours before that, contact the firm and provide information on procedures and deadlines.

MEPs also said that if a company has been subject to a substantial number of removal orders, the authorities may request that it implements regular reporting to the authorities, or increasing human resources.

Rachida Dati, French MEP of EPP Group, underlined that when it comes to online terrorist content, time is of the essence. She explained that her group insisted that all competent authorities should be able to send removal orders to all online platforms. Disabling access to terrorist content in only one Member State is not good enough, she opined, noting that such dangerous content should be removed within the hour in all Member States.

ALDE's shadow rapporteur of the file, Spanish MEP Maite Pagazaurtundua, urged that “terrorist content online must be tackled, there's no way around it”, but we also must remain practical and create a balance between freedoms and security.

On her part Eva Joly, French Greens/EFA MEP and shadow rapporteur on the file, revealed that the Commission's original proposal was very worrying in many respects, but “we have redoubled our efforts to rebalance the text and protect the freedoms of information and expression”. Rather than letting private platforms alone police the Internet, the adopted text places the responsibility for assessing what does and does not constitute terrorist content mainly where it belongs - in the hands of a truly independent authority, Joly said.

 

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