An amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill that would extend copyright filtering to cover ‘extremist' material has been condemned by human rights organisation Article 19.
The organisation warns that the amendment, proposed by Labour MP Stephen Doughty, amounts to censorship and would, in any case, likely contravene Article 15 of the European Union E-Commerce Directive.
Doughty, a member of the House Affairs Select Committee, claimed that if it were possible for major internet companies to automatically remove copyrighted material, as proposed in the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, it should be equally easy to remove extremist material, too - within 24 hours of receiving an official complaint.
Today I've published an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill to require 24h removal of extremist content hosted by tech companies like @Twitter @YouTube @facebook - it's clear that the voluntary approach is not working. If copyrighted material can be dealt with - so must this. pic.twitter.com/y7lRpIdtF6— Stephen Doughty (@SDoughtyMP) June 26, 2018
"If these companies [Google, Facebook and others] can remove copyrighted video or music content from companies like Disney within a matter of hours, there is no excuse for them to be failing to do so for extremist material," said Doughty.
He continued: "It is clear we now need a robust regulatory system and appropriate sanctions to require proactive investigation by tech companies of what they are hosting and swift takedown of content and accounts which glorify and encourage terrorist organisations and extremist views."
On top of that, Doughty's amendment would also require "internet search engine providers, video and image sharing platforms and social media platforms" to proactively scour their systems for extremist material and to block it within six hours of it being identified via internal procedures.
There is not always a clear line between incitement to terrorism and the expression of controversial opinions
But Article 19 has suggested that Doughty's amendments would fundamentally undermine freedom of speech and impose a form of internet censorship.
"These proposals are very worrying," Article 19 legal officer Gabrielle Guillemin told V3.
She continued: "The government should not be delegating censorship to private companies, let alone filters. Companies are inherently incapable of making independent determinations as to the legality of content - particularly if under threat of heavy fines - and filters are notoriously bad at analysing context.
"This is important because there is not always a clear line between incitement to terrorism and the expression of controversial opinions."
In addition, she said, the 24-hour deadline proposed by Doughty "is a ridiculously short timeframe", especially as there is currently no clear or widely agreed legal definition of "extremism" or "extremist material".
Extremism is not defined in law, only in the PREVENT strategy. That definition is so hopelessly broad that legitimate expression would inevitably get caught
Guillemin added: "Extremism is not defined in law, only in the PREVENT strategy (PDF). That definition is so hopelessly broad (for example, 'active opposition to fundamental British values') that legitimate expression would inevitably get caught.
"Lastly, these proposals are likely to run afoul of Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive, which prohibits Member States from imposing general monitoring obligations. The reality is that politicians are increasingly pushing for measures where our rights are less protected online than offline."
The European Parliament voted in favour of the Copyright Directive last week, despite widespread opposition that suggested that it would outlaw memes and other trivial supposed infringements of copyright.
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