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Anti-terror censorship: EU Commission proposal on Internet blocking and filtering would break the web

The German pirate party warns of the EU Commission‘s new plan aimed at “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”.

“The proposed easy-to-bypass Internet blocking and automated upload filters existentially threaten countless Internet services and endanger freedom of expression on the Internet,” warns Patrick Breyer, civil liberties activist and top candidate of the Pirate Party for the European elections in 2019. “Internet censorship is the wrong approach to countering violent extremism. It provides Islamists with arguments against the West and will connect sympathisers and extremists even closer in clandestinity.”

In detail, the Pirate Party names eight points of criticism regarding the draft regulation:

1) Easy-to-circumvent Internet blocking by using geolocation:
It can be assumed that providers will apply simple geolocation techniques when receiving blocking orders because they are not required to actually delete “terrorist content” but only to block it for EU users. However, it is technically easy to circumvent such geoblocking, for example by using proxy servers abroad. The spreading of terrorist propaganda would thus de facto not be contained at all.

2) Countless Internet services would have to cease operations:
The EU censorship regulation would apply to almost all commercial or non-commercial Internet services, for example blogs with comments function, forums, Wikipedia, file sharing services, coding hubs or news portals with comments function. The regulation existentially threatens a large number of Internet services because many operators do not have the resources to implement upload filters and to block content within one hour of receiving an order (even at night-time).

3) Error-prone upload filters endanger our freedom of expression:
Internet providers are to be obliged to automatically search for as yet unknown “terrorist content” without having to perform a human check before blocking it. Such fully automated upload filters are censorship machines that have been proven to suppress completely legal content (e.g. documentation of human rights violations in civil wars). Our freedom of opinion and information should not be entrusted to algorithms and machines. A human check is indispensable before blocking content.

4) Lack of independence of censorship authorities:
According to the EU proposal, the authorities that are to order the blocking of “terrorist information” do not need to be independent from governments. No court order is required to block content. This could put our freedom of expression and information in the hands of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior or a local police officer in Romania, for example, which is unacceptable. Only independent authorities should be allowed to order the blocking of content (for example a court, a Commissioner for freedom of expression or a Citizens’ Advocate).

5) Arbitrary private censorship is encouraged rather than prevented:
According to the regulation, the procedure for issuing blocking orders can be circumvented by simply “notifying” providers and letting them decide. However, our freedom of opinion and information must not be placed in the hands of private Internet companies, which often delete content seemingly arbitrarily. In order to protect freedom of expression, Internet providers should be explicitly prohibited from arbitrarily deleting or blocking legal content, and should be required to seek a decision by an independent public authority.

6) Lack of transparency and control:
Effective access to justice is not guaranteed. The uploader of blocked content is not to be notified, even where contact details are available. We think it necessary that the author be informed and that not only they, but also any other citizen who is denied access to content be entitled to challenge the blocking. This engages non-governmental organisations fighting for freedom of expression on the Internet and helps reduce the unjustified suppression of information.

7) A “European Internet” will be created:
Instead of seeking an international understanding on universally outlawed content, a European regional web is to be created by blocking content that, for example, remains legally accessible in the USA. This contradicts the fundamental idea of the Internet as a worldwide network.

8) Data retention through the back door?
The draft EU Censorship regulation encourages the recording of our private browsing without any reason. When blocking “terrorist content”, a provider is to be required to preserve „associated user data“, even though such data should not have been recorded in the first place according to the GDPR. There is a danger that providers will identify and track all users only to be able to comply with the data preservation obligation. A free Internet requires anonymity. Anonymity is essential for journalists, whistleblowers or people seeking advice, to name but a few.

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