MEPs back one hour limit to remove online terrorist content

Internet platforms which host terrorist content would have one hour to remove it under new EU-wide legislation backed by MEPs today. Fines of up to four per-cent of turnover could be imposed on repeat offenders who fail to remove terrorist posts under proposals being led through the European Parliament by ECR MEP Daniel Dalton.

Sites that are regularly targeted could also be asked to introduce specifically focused monitoring of posts as a last resort while paying “particular regard to the fundamental rights of users and the importance of free speech”.

Mr Dalton said the existing voluntary code operated by platforms had brought improvements but now needed to be backed up by carefully targeted legislation.

He said:

“There is clearly a problem with terrorist material circulating unchecked on the internet for too long. Law enforcement authorities have made clear to me that terrorist content disseminates most rapidly in the first hour and that the one hour principle is vital.

“This propaganda can be linked to actual terrorist incidents and national authorities must be able to act decisively. The online posts linked to the recent terrorist outrage in Christchurch were another reminder of how important it is that we act.”

Platforms will not have to meet the one hour deadline the first time they receive an order. Instead they will be given a longer period to put processes in place. The report also includes specific protection for small businesses which may not be able to meet the 60 minute deadline and suggests that cloud infrastructure services for companies be removed from the scope of the legislation as they do not control data and cannot remove individual posts.

Mr Dalton said: “Any new legislation must be practical and proportionate if we are to safeguard free speech. Without a fair process we risk the over-removal of content as businesses would understandably take a safety first approach to defend themselves. It also absolutely cannot lead to a general monitoring of content by the back door.”

Addressing members the Home Affairs Committee ahead of today’s vote, Mr Dalton refuted suggestions that Parliament had been holding up the legislation.

He said: “Apparently, if MEPs dare to question a comma or full stop of the Commission’s proposal they are either trying to run down the clock or they are in the pocket of big tech firms. This is not true and ultimately damages faith in politics. It is a blatant smear campaign directed against this Parliament, conducted in the pages of newspapers that should know better.

“MEPs chose this committee to get this legislation through Parliament in mid-January. My draft report came out days later. And we are now voting on 8 April.

“In contrast, EU leaders promised to fight online radicalisation in June 2017 but the Commission did not publish its proposal until September 2018.”

The legislation was approved in committee by 35 votes to one, with eight abstentions. It is hoped it will be voted by the full Parliament in Strasbourg next week.

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