After the attacks in Nice and Paris, the European interior ministers vowed what they always vow after attacks: more cooperation, more data exchange, more Europe. This also reads a joint statement by the interior ministers from mid-November, in which more than ten elements of the fight against terrorism are addressed. However, there is hardly anything in it that is very specific or surprising. The aim is to protect the EU’s external borders, defend European values and expand police cooperation. The “most urgent wish” of the interior ministers, as Horst Seehofer (CSU) said after the meeting, however, concerns the Internet – and this wish could actually be fulfilled soon.
Seehofer wants “terrorist content on the Internet to be deleted in the shortest possible time”, across borders and “if possible within an hour after the appearance of such a message”. For example, people who want to radicalize others on the internet are to a certain extent deprived of their food. And so calls for terrorist acts should disappear from the Internet as quickly as possible. Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson gave a current example at the ministerial meeting: Terrorist organizations, for example, had called for revenge after the “Charlie Hebdo” cartoons were published again. According to the Brussels authority, such content should be seen by fewer eyes and no longer spread as quickly. The EU Commission proposed the necessary law back in 2018, under its then President Jean-Claude Juncker. The negotiations between member states and the EU Parliament on this are “not that easy”, as Seehofer, who is involved as a representative of the German Council Presidency, says.
But now they are about to finish; A compromise could be reached this month. However, some key issues are still controversial, especially those relating to user protection. As is so often the case, more protection for users also means more work or hurdles for the security authorities. So it is in the nature of things, so to speak, that interior ministers and MEPs have different priorities.
Users should be able to have deletions checked retrospectively by a court
The biggest point of contention relates to the question of when and how much State A can have a say if State B instructs an Internet platform based in State A to delete terrorist content – the EU member states sometimes have very different things about what “terrorist” means Conceptions. In Spain, for example, the Catalonian separatist movement is faced with accusations of terrorism – something that is not necessarily the same across the Pyrenees. Under the current plans for the law, State B would not need a court order to have any content in State A deleted. For example, a Hungarian security authority could request a German provider to make content disappear – and they would have to obey, otherwise fines could be imposed. That is why the parliament calls for greater rights of objection for State A, as well as possibilities for the individual user to have such deletions subsequently checked by a court. MEP Patrick Breyer (Pirates) takes part in the negotiations on the law for the Greens. He warns: “Otherwise, freedom of expression will be harmonized downwards. I don’t think that’s the right way to go.”
It is also controversial how small forum providers or blogs should deal with such deletion orders that simply have no one to scan the comment columns for terrorist calls and the e-mail inbox for official mail for 24 hours. It can be difficult for such platforms to remove problematic content within an hour at any time of the day. Failure to comply, however, threatens penalties, at least from the second time. Nevertheless, the Member States want the same rules for such providers as for large ones. Critics find this exaggerated because small providers do not have the same reach as large ones, and content on such sites cannot immediately cause the same damage as on more popular platforms.
And then there is another topic that triggers unpleasant memories for all those who followed the discussion about the copyright reform at the beginning of last year: upload filters. Parliament is not in principle opposed to the possibility of using such filters – but with a view to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it wants to prevent them from becoming mandatory for the platforms. The argument is very similar to that of copyright back then, except that this time it is also put forward by the German Association of Journalists (DJV): “There is a risk that a journalistic report on terror will be deleted because the difference between terrorism and reporting is not recognized “, says DJV federal chairman Frank Überall. The same should apply to the difference between terrorism and scientific examination of it.
It would be a success for the German government if the law were ready before the end of the year, because in January the next EU state will take over the six-month Council Presidency: Portugal. Horst Seehofer is therefore not only interested in reaching an agreement with Parliament and concluding the negotiations as Minister of the Interior.