The EU Adopts Controversial Law to Enforce Rapid Takedown of Terrorist Content

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London, England - March 23, 2017: Newspaper headlines the day after the Terrorist attack in Westminster, London in which Khalid Masood killed at least three people.
The law has drawn criticism for expecting too much from service providers.

The European Union has formally adopted a law that requires internet companies to remove terrorist content or make it inaccessible within an hour of being notified by the authorities. The takedowns apply to the entire EU, with member states able to issue financial penalties to firms that don’t comply with requests. 

 

The law comes into effect 12 months after being published in the EU’s official journal, which is a standard part of passing EU law. The law is then adopted by individual member states. 

 

The law has proven controversial and has been debated for years. It was originally proposed in 2018 when terrorist attacks by groups such as ISIS were happening across Europe. Lawmakers were concerned about the potential for online radicalization and wanted a tool to fight it. The proposals have slowly passed through the relevant EU legislative bodies, getting amended multiple times along the way. 

 

One such amendment was that the law didn’t apply to terrorist content included in artistic, educational, academic, and journalistic material. The law also doesn’t require internet companies to pre-emptively monitor and filter content. 

 

Many MEPs and rights groups remain concerned about the legislation and potential unintended effects. While companies aren’t obligated to monitor and filter content, they may do so anyway so they can respond quickly to a takedown request. Experts are worried algorithms to detect and filter content could block legitimate content. 

 

Another potential concern is that one hour isn’t long enough for smaller companies with less resources to respond. Terrorists use smaller platforms because they don’t have the resources to monitor and remove content. Such a strict timeframe would make it harder for smaller companies and further reduce competition in a field dominated by American tech companies. 

 

EU member states may also have different ideas of what constitutes “terrorist” content. Authoritarian countries such as Hungary and Poland could use the law to silence critics or issue takedown requests for content hosted in other countries. One civil rights group argues that online platforms will have no choice but to comply to such requests because they only have an hour to respond. 

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