European Parliament confirms new online censorship powers

EU regulation against ‘terrorist’ content online (TERREG) was approved without a final vote by the European Parliament on April 29th. The regulation will harm our ability to freely express ourselves and access information online.

By EDRi · April 29, 2021

On 29 April, the Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online was approved without a final vote, concluding the last step of the European Union legislative process before the measures it contains can come into effect.

The procedure for the second reading excluded elected representatives from the final decision over this human rights intrusive legislation. It deprived EU citizens from seeing if the Members of the European Parliament, the only democratically elected body of the EU would have accepted a 1-hour removal deadline for content, forcing platforms to use content filtering, and empowering state authorities to enable censorship.

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European Digital Rights (EDRi), Access Now, the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) and Wikimedia Deutschland, supported by 75 human rights and digital rights organisations, journalist associations, academics and affected groups, deeply regret that representatives of EU residents ignored repeated warnings against the dangers that the proposal poses for European values and fundamental rights.

“The Regulation allows an EU state to request the removal, within the hour, of content hosted in another country on the grounds that it is ‘terrorist’ content. What this means is that somebody like Viktor Orban could ask for the removal of content uploaded in another country because it criticises his government.”

Eva Simon, Senior Advocacy Officer, Liberties

“To comply with TERREG, many platforms may use automated decision making systems to remove content, which is problematic. Machine learning systems for detection and identification of potentially illegal content are context blind and commit errors that are ultimately paid for by users’ fundamental rights and freedoms. While fighting against the terrorism is an important objective, TERREG will actually hurt freedom of expression for people across Europe and beyond, and miss its mark.”

Eliška Pírková, Europe Policy Analyst, Access Now

The result is that important public debates that help society understand, monitor and deal with terrorism get categorised incorrectly and could just be censored.

“As the state of the rule of law in Europe is continuously deteriorating, the EU is giving further sweeping powers to law enforcement authorities to crack down on legitimate protests, freedom of expression, and media and artistic freedoms online. This is likely to affect groups already disproportionately targeted by counter-terrorism measures.”

Anna Mazgal, EU Policy Advisor, Wikimedia Deutschland

The Regulation contains a general exemption for the protection of educational, journalistic, artistic or research content as well as counter-speech. Yet, in the absence of actual safeguards and judicial control, these protections will remain empty shells.

“The risk that this Regulation could be revoked by courts is considerable given the experience of the anti-hate speech law in France. Both texts contained similar measures but one was already declared invalid by the French Constitutional Council. For the second one to fall, it’s up to litigation groups now.”

Chloé Berthélémy, Policy Advisor, EDRi