The European Commission has today proposed a troublesome new regulation regarding terrorist content online. As we have said, illegal content – of which terrorist content is a particularly striking example – undermines the overall health of the internet. We welcome effective and sustainable efforts to address illegal content online. But the Commission’s proposal is a poor step in that direction. It would undermine due process online; compel the use of ineffective content filters; strengthen the position of a few dominant platforms while hampering European competitors; and, ultimately, violate the EU’s commitment to protecting fundamental rights.
Under the Commission’s proposal, government-appointed authorities – not independent courts – would have the unilateral power to suppress speech on the internet. Longstanding norms around due process and the separation of powers would be swept aside, with little evidence to support such a drastic departure from established norms. These authorities would have vague, indeterminate authority to require additional proactive measures (including but not limited to content filters) from platforms where they deem them appropriate.
In keeping with a worrying global policy trend, this proposal falls victim to the flawed and dangerous assumption that technology is a panacea to complex problems. It would force private companies to play an even greater role in defining acceptable speech online. In practice it would force online services throughout the internet ecosystem to adapt the standards of speech moderation designed for the largest platforms, strengthening their role in the internet economy and putting European competitors at a disadvantage. At a time when lawmakers around the world are increasingly concerned with centralisation and competition in the digital marketplace, this would be a step backwards.
A regulation that poses broad threats to free expression outside of a rule-of-law framework is incompatible with the EU’s long-standing commitment to protecting fundamental rights. As a mission-driven technology company and not-for-profit foundation, both maker of the Firefox web browser and steward of a community of internet builders, we believe user rights and technical expertise must play an essential part in this legislative debate. We have previously presented the Commission with a framework to guide effective policy for illegal content in the European legal context. This proposal falls far short of what is needed for the health of the internet in Europe.