Security Union: Commission welcomes political agreement on removing terrorist content online

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


The Commission welcomes today’s political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the proposal for a Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online. Once adopted, the Regulation will ensure that online platforms play a more active role in detecting terrorist content online and that such content is removed within a maximum of one hour. The agreement will also help to counter the spread of extremist ideologies online – a vital part of preventing attacks and addressing radicalisation. These rules are an essential part of the Commission’s Counter-Terrorism Agenda.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today’s agreement will make the internet safer. When left online, terrorist content causes serious harm – it can motivate new attacks, radicalise people and is a means to disseminate dangerous technical expertise. The Regulation will provide a clear legal framework that sets out the responsibilities for Member States and service providers. Today’s agreement is an important milestone in helping to prevent future attacks. Our Security Union is becoming a reality. ”

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “Terrorists use videos – and sometimes even live streaming – of their attacks as a recruitment tool. Stopping terrorist propaganda is key for our work against radicalisation. With this Regulation, we are ensuring that what is illegal offline is illegal online. National authorities and online platforms will now be equipped to quickly limit the harm caused by this illegal content. We built in strong safeguards to protect our freedom of expression and information.”

Main elements of today’s compromise include:

  • The one-hour rule: Terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours after its appearance. The new rules oblige online platforms to stop the dissemination of such content as early as possible.
  • EU cross-border effects of removal orders: Removal orders can be sent by any Member States to any online platform established within the EU.
  • A definition of terrorist content in line with the existing Directive on combating terrorism. Content disseminated for educational, journalistic, artistic or research purposes  will be exempted. The exemption will also apply to content disseminated to raise awareness against terrorist activity.
  • Complaint mechanisms so that content that has been removed erroneously can be reinstated as soon as possible.
  • Strengthened co-operation between national authorities and Europol to facilitate follow-up to removal orders.
  • Obligations for service providers to address proactively the misuse of their services for the dissemination of terrorist content online.
  • Transparency and accountability to be guaranteed by annual transparency reports.
  • An ability for Member States to sanction non-compliance and to decide on the level of penalties, which should be proportionate to the nature and size of the platforms to alleviate the burden and penalties for small, medium and micro enterprises.

Next steps

The Regulation must now be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, in line with their respective roles and procedures. The Commission remains fully committed to support the process, including the application of the Regulation.

Background

Fighting terrorism, along with organised crime and cybercrime, is a priority for the von der Leyen Commission. In July, the Commission presented the EU Security Union Strategy 2020-2025 and committed to focus on priority areas where the EU can bring value to support Member States in fostering security for those living in Europe. The recently adopted Counter-Terrorism Agenda builds on the measures already adopted to deny terrorists the means to carry out attacks and to strengthen resilience against attacks.

The Commission proposed the Regulation agreed today in 2018 and has been strongly engaged in supporting negotiations between co-legislators on this priority file.

In parallel, the Commission has been working with the Member States, Europol and industry on a voluntary basis. Together with Europol, the companies developed a “database of hashes”, allowing content identified as harmful to be tagged electronically, preventing it from reappearing. The database contains over 300,000 unique hashes of known terrorist videos and images.

The EU Internet Referral Unit at Europol also scans the web for online terrorist material. Since its creation in July 2015, it has referred over 100,000 pieces of content to Internet companies, over 25,000 in 2019.

In addition, in October 2019, the Commission, Member States and online service providers committed to an EU Crisis Protocol – a rapid response mechanism to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

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