Effective and rights-protective procedures for tackling illegal content – Mozilla files comment to the European Commission

For many years we have sought to lead the way in developing an internet that promotes human dignity, civil discourse, individual expression and collaborative problem-solving. Unfortunately, illegal content online – from hate speech to terrorist content – undermines the overall health of the internet and stifles its empowering nature. In that context, developing policy frameworks and industry best practices for tackling illegal content in a rights-protective manner is one of our key policy objectives.

The EU – like many other regulatory jurisdictions around the world – is currently considering new measures to ensure effective removal of illegal content from the internet. To that end, the European Commission recently published a policy roadmap on the issue, which included – amongst others – the suggestion that Internet platforms be obliged to implement automated mechanisms to both detect attempted uploads of illegal content and filter any such content on their services.

As we’ve always argued, the regulation of speech online necessarily calls into play numerous fundamental rights and freedoms (free expression, right to privacy, due process rights, etc), as well as crucial technical considerations (‘does the architecture of the internet render this type of measure possible or not’, etc). In this respect, regulatory solutions in this space must place the interests of internet users first-and-foremost, and crucially, key decisions as to whether content should stay up or be taken down should not be rendered the sole purview of a handful of very large platforms.

In context of our mission objective to realise a safe, open, and empowering internet for all users, we have filed comment with the European Commission, to provide feedback on its recent policy roadmap and offer recommendations on how to best tackle illegal content within a fights-protective framework.

Our filing argues that:

  • automated and machine-learning solutions can never be a silver bullet to fight against illegal or harmful speech on the internet – on the contrary, they can often lead to the inadvertent suppression of legal and important speech, thereby engendering a free expression chill;
  • there can be no one-size-fits-all content control measure – the unique nature of each type of content and the fact that varying degrees of context is required to assess whether a given piece of content is illegal render general solutions unfeasible; and,
  • different types of service providers engage with user-upload content with varying degrees of sophistication and resource investment, and we need to return to a principles-based approach that makes responsibility commensurate with capacity to act and content engagement.

In closing our filing, we urge the European Commission to refrain from undertaking any new regulatory interventions on intermediary liability and notice & action before the end of its current political mandate (mid-2019), so that adequate time can be taken to achieve the right balance on these complex issues. Moreover, we stress that any future regulatory intervention in that space must be preceded by an ambitious and multi-stakeholder dialogue. The aim of such a dialogue would be to develop an innovative framework that tackles illegal content online within a framework that is both rights-protective and respectful of the rule of law.

Ultimately, building sustainable and rights-protective frameworks for tackling illegal content on the Internet is an extremely challenging task, and few of the attempts thus far around the globe have struck an appropriate balance. In the EU and elsewhere, we’ll endeavour to provide technical and valued-based insights in such discussions to ensure the Internet remains empowering, open, and inclusive to all.

If you’re interested in learning more about our views and concerns on this issue, you can read our filing here.