The ICJ called today on the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Commission to give a central role to the judiciary and ensure effective judicial remedies to prevent and redress human rights violations, in the draft Regulation on “Terrorist Content Online”.
The call comes as the final phase of the negotiations between the EU institutions on the draft Regulation begin this Thursday 10 December..
The ICJ is concerned that without procedures that incorporate core rule of law principles in the Regulation, there is a risk of improper and overreaching suppression of content that will undermine freedom of expression and other rights online.
Among the ICJ ‘s concerns with the proposal as it currently stands, is that it does not provide for mandatory judicial authorization and judicial review of orders by national authorities to remove content online deemed to be “terrorist”.
According to draft Article 4 of the proposal, national “competent authorities” would have the power to issue a decision requiring a hosting service provider to remove “terrorist” content or disable access to it within one hour from receipt of the removal order.
The ICJ considers that the power to issue removal orders to censor content online within an hour, without prior judicial authorisation, risks leading to excessive, arbitrary or discriminatory interference with the freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association online as well as with rights to privacy and data protection of persons residing or present in EU Member States.
Under international and EU human rights law applicable to EU Member States, any restriction on these rights must be prescribed by law so that their application is clear and foreseeable, must be necessary and proportionate in the circumstances of the individual case, must be non-discriminatory and must allow access to an effective remedy. Furthermore, any person must have access to a court of law to access justice against breach of their rights.
The proposal, if approved without modifications, would allow – as yet undetermined – national authorities to order the removal of content online from host service providers, even if these are residing outside of their State or of the EU, without any authorisation from a court of law.
Furthermore, the definition of “terrorist” content relies heavily on a recent EU Directive on Combatting terrorism (2017/541) that allows for excessively wide criminalisation of forms of expression, such as the offence of “glorification of terrorism”.
The proposal is also likely to trigger a jurisdictional quagmire among EU Member States that will in the medium term be counter-productive to the objective of countering terrorism.
The power of a non-judicial authority of a Member State to issue orders binding upon public and private entities of another Member State, without prior judicial approval on the constitutionality and lawfulness of the order and of the rights in each jurisdiction, will seriously undermine mutual trust among jurisdictions, a core principle for the functioning of the EU Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. This is particularly important in light of the serious threats to the Rule of Law occurring in certain EU Member States that are already impairing the functioning of other EU criminal cooperation instruments, such as the European Arrest Warrant.
The ICJ therefore calls on all the actors heading the negotiations on the EU Regulation on “Terrorist Content Online” to adjust the current draft in order to provide for a central role of judicial authorities of EU Member States in the scheme of the Regulation by requiring designated “competent authorities” under Article 4 of the Regulation to be judicial authorities; to provide for judicial review, and to include adequate safeguards in the Regulation to ensure the protection of the human rights of any person subject to their jurisdiction.
In 2018 the European Commission published a proposal of the EU Regulation on “Terrorist Content” Online. The aim of the Regulation is to establish uniform rules to prevent the misuse of hosting services for the dissemination of terrorist content online.
The Regulation has been since discussed by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, who are currently in the final stages of negotiation in the EU legislative procedure in closed sessions among representatives of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission (the so-called trialogue procedure).
Karolina Babicka, Legal Adviser, Europe and Central Asia Programme, e: karolina.babicka(a)icj.org
Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser, Europe and Central Asia Programme, e: massimo.frigo(a)icj.org, t: +41 79 749 99 49