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Free Expression

Joint Open Letter to Members of European Parliament on TCO Regulation

CDT, civil society and business groups urge Members of the European Parliament to significantly amend the proposed Terrorist Content Online Regulation.

Today, 18 March 2019, CDT joins several NGOs and technology industry groups in submitting an open letter to Members of the European Parliament. On 21 March, the lead Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee is scheduled to vote on its report on the Regulation. The letter highlights several serious concerns CDT and others have expressed on several occasions since the Regulation was proposed by the European Commission. The Commission’s draft text is framed in such a way that it would result in overbroad restriction of legitimate political speech and content that is disseminated for purposes such as journalism, research and commentary, on a broad set of subjects related to terrorism. In this way, it would cause disproportionate limitations to the right to free expression and access to information. Unfortunately, when Member States reviewed the Commission’s proposal, they failed to address the concerns raised by academics, human rights experts, civil society groups, and industry.

Now, we urge Parliamentarians to amend the text in the following important ways: To narrow the definition of terrorist content to align with the Terrorism Directive; to narrow the definition of terrorist groups to cover only those groups listed by the United Nations and the European Union; to ensure that removal orders follow robust and accountable procedures and are issued by a single independent competent authority per Member State; to limit the definition of hosting services to services that have been used to propagate terrorist content to the general public, and exclude services such as Cloud Infrastructure, Internet Infrastructure and Electronic Communication Services; to amend the extremely short one-hour deadline to comply with removal orders, an arbitrary and unjustified and unworkable (especially for SMEs) deadline that would certainly lead to over-removals; to delete or substantially reframe provisions on referrals so they do not lead to private companies deciding the legality of content instead of the judicial authorities; and finally to explicitly align the proposal with the e-Commerce Directive, ensuring that any additional (‘proactive’) measures do not directly or indirectly, result in implementing mandatory filtering and general monitoring obligations.

The European Commission published its proposal unusually late in its mandate, forcing the European Parliament to deal with it in an extremely short space of time. That was unfortunate and avoidable and it has put Parliament in a difficult position. We commend Parliamentarians for the serious and diligent work they have on the Regulation, and we encourage them to amend and improve the proposal along the lines set out in this letter.