The European Parliament approved last week a law that requires social networks and search engines to remove terrorist content within an hour of an order being received. The law was proposed by the European Commission in 2018 in light of a growing number of lone-wolf terrorist attacks on the continent, some of which were inspired by online content, and cleared a number of hurdles with opponents claiming the law violates freedom of expression. It will go into effect next year.
The new law will focus on all types of content that incite or contribute to terrorist offences in any way, including instructions on how to make and use explosives and other weapons for terrorist purposes. As mentioned, suppliers of these content services throughout the EU will have to remove or disable access within one hour of receiving a removal order from the competent authority, and the member states will adopt rules on penalties if it is not carried out. The members will be subject to fines of up to 4% of their global turnover for non-compliance.
The new regulation will target content such as texts, images, sound recordings or videos, including live transmissions, that incite, solicit or contribute to terrorist offences, provide instructions for such offences or solicit people to participate in a terrorist group. In line with the definitions of offences included in the Directive on combating terrorism, it will also cover material that provides guidance on how to make and use explosives, firearms and other weapons for terrorist purposes.
According to the law, internet platforms will not have a general obligation to monitor or filter content, but only to act the moment a demand is received. Also, companies will be required to publish annual transparency reports in which they detail what actions they have taken to stop the spread of the content. Content related to terror that is uploaded for educational, journalistic, artistic, or awareness-raising purposes will not be included under the law.
"Terrorists recruit, share propaganda and coordinate attacks on the internet," said member of parliament Patryk Jaki (Poland). "I strongly believe that what we achieved is a good outcome, which balances security and freedom of speech and expression on the internet, protects legal content and access to information for every citizen in the EU, while fighting terrorism through cooperation and trust between states."
The law sparked controversy regarding the boundaries of freedom of expression and democracy on the continent. "We really are risking censorship across Europe. Hungarian and Polish governments already demonstrated they have no issues removing content that they disagree with," said the vice president of the European Parliament, Marcel Kolaja from the Czech Republic. "This regulation allows them to spread these practices to the territory of any other member state." His comments were reported by Reuters.