Comment in response to European Commission's March 2018 Recommendation on measures to further improve the effectiveness of the fight against illegal content online

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
March 28, 2018
The European Commission's March 2018 Recommendation on measures to further improve the effectiveness of the fight against illegal content online calls on Internet platforms to use automatic filters to detect and remove terrorist content. It also tells platforms to inform law enforcement if users share certain content. To correct for the inevitable errors of technical filters, the Recommendation suggests human review for flagged content -- but only in some cases. It also suggests mechanisms such as notice to affected users and opportunity for them to contest the removal, but again, only in some cases. 
This Comment, filed in response to the Commission's request for feedback, identifies potentially serious problems with this proposal. While measures to combat terrorist content are important, and private Internet platforms have important roles to play in this effort, the specific measures recommended by the Commission are poorly calibrated to protect both safety and security and the fundamental rights of Internet users. The Comment discusses:
(1) unique attributes of potentially terrorist content, including the significance of context in distinguishing material that incites violence from sometimes-identical material used in counter-radicalization efforts and other important public discourse;
(2) discriminatory impact of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts, which disproportionately affect innocent Internet users based on their ethnicity, language (such as Farsi, Arabic, or Chechen), or religion; and the likely increase in such harms if the Recommendation is followed;
(3) security research regarding the impact of CVE campaigns and ways they can backfire to the detriment of public safety and security, including by marginalizing or silencing important voices countering radicalization within their communities and by driving potential extremist recruits into Internet echo chambers; and 
(4) outlines fundamental rights impacted by the Recommendation, including Equality and Non-Discrimination Rights (EU Charter Arts. 20-21); Privacy and Data Protection Rights (Arts. 7-8); Information and Expression Rights (Art. 11); and Fair Process Rights (Arts. 47-48).