By Joe McNamee

In September 2017, the European Commission adopted a “Communication” on illegal content online, full of demands that somebody – but not them and not the Member States – should do something to fight illegal content online. With this move, the European Commission managed to generate some good publicity for itself.

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In January 2018, the European Commission decided to push the limits of vagueness and made a statement calling for “more efforts and faster progress” in fighting illegal content. More than what? There are no benchmarks. Faster than what? There are no benchmarks, no safeguards, no review processes, no statistics beyond how much is removed more quickly – perfect for generating good press coverage.

Delighted by the good press coverage that it was able to generate from such vague and populist demands, the ink was hardly dry on the Communication before the European Commission started writing a “Recommendation” on illegal content online, full of demands that somebody – but not them and not the Member States – should do something to fight illegal content online. This was eventually adopted in March 2018. The press coverage was favourable.

Like a drunk staggering from lamppost to lamppost, looking for support rather than illumination, the European Commission is now – again – looking for a new press release. In September, in the complete absence of any data about anything else except “more” being deleted “faster” and the need for even more to be deleted even faster, the European Commission plans to launch a Directive.

What will the Directive contain? Will we see review processes to protect free speech? No, except maybe the right to complain to internet companies in cases where they remove content on the basis of the law (i.e. never). Or to avoid counterproductive impacts that makes the threat of terrorism greater? No. Or statistics on the actual impact beyond populist slogans of “more and faster”? No.

In a stunning example of the Commission’s current lack of self-awareness, it is planning to adopt the proposal for the legislation in the same week that its controversial legislation on copyright (which includes upload filtering) returns to the European Parliament.

So, in September, the news will be, the Commission is getting serious about illegal content online. After all somebody – but not the Commission and not the Member States – should really do something. Anything. Regardless of the cost.

Read more:

Commission’s position on tackling illegal content online is contradictory and dangerous for free speech (28.09.2017)
https://edri.org/commissions-position-tackling-illegal-content-online-contradictory-dangerous-free-speech/

Q&A on the Recommendation on Measures to “effectively tackle illegal content online” (01.03.2018)
https://edri.org/qa-the-recommendation-on-measures-to-effectively-tackle-illegal-content-online/

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