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EU proposals to curb "dissemination of terrorist content" threaten free speech

ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on eff.org on 5 February 2019.

Governments around the world are grappling with the threat of terrorism, but their efforts aimed at curbing the dissemination of terrorist content online all too often result in censorship. Over the past five years, we've seen a number of governments - from the US Congress to that of France and now the European Commission (EC) - seek to implement measures that place an undue burden on technology companies to remove "terrorist" speech or face financial liability.

This is why EFF has joined forces with dozens of organizations to call on members of the European Parliament to oppose the EC's proposed regulation, which would require companies to take down "terrorist content" within one hour. We've added our voice to two letters - one from Witness and another organized by the Center for Democracy and Technology - asking that MEPs consider the serious consequences that the passing of this regulation could have on human rights defenders and on freedom of expression.

We share the concerns of dozens of allies that requiring the use of proactive measures such as use of the terrorism hash database (already voluntarily in use by a number of companies) will restrict expression and have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups. We know from years of experience that filters just don't work.

Furthermore, the proposed requirement that companies must respond to reports of terrorist speech within an hour is, to put it bluntly, absurd. As the letter organized by Witness states, this regulation "essentially forces companies to bypass due process and make rapid and unaccountable decisions on expression through automated means" and furthermore doesn't reflect the realities of how violent groups recruit and share information online.

We echo these and other calls from defenders of human rights and civil liberties for MEPs to reject proactive filtering obligations and to refrain from enacting laws that will have unintended consequences for freedom of expression.

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