Brussels, 24th October 2017- The rule of law must not be sacrificed in the fight against illegal content online, EuroISPA Vice President Dr Maximilian Schubert stressed in his address at the Internet Freedom conference in Vienna last Friday. Jointly organised by the Organisation for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe (CoE), the conference focused on the role and responsibilities of Internet intermediaries vis-à-vis illegal content.
In his address Dr Schubert addressed key contemporary policy issues, including the disproportionate content control burden placed on Internet service providers and best practices in illegal content removal. Recently, governments have called for greater responsibility and liability to be placed on Internet companies in the fight against illegal online content. However, as EuroISPA has stressed for many years, Internet service providers are simply unable to simultaneously play the role of judge, jury and executioner when it comes to removing illegal content. As Dr Schubert underscored, “Courts are the sole institutions to decide the admissibility of content. This responsibility must not be passed down to Internet providers.”
Moreover, moves by European governments to force Internet intermediaries to remove content within shorter and shorter timeframes, such as the German NetzDG, also pose a threat to free expression and due process. This risk is elevated with respect to borderline or context-specific controversial content, where an Internet intermediary would be forced to err on the side of caution and remove content, rather than run the risk of criminal and civil liability in the event that the content is actually illegal.
EuroISPA has for many years cooperated with both the CoE and OSCE on these issues, most notably in its co-authorship with the CoE of the influential Human Rights Guidelines for Internet Service Providers.
Speaking after the conference Dr Schubert said: “The overwhelming majority of the 2500 companies represented by EuroISPA, as well as in the internet ecosystem, are SMEs. SMEs are especially sensitive to compliance, and therefore economic, burdens. When crafting laws, it is essential that policymakers avoid the “GAFA fallacy” – that is, to consider their legal action only in relation to a small cohort of very large and well-known providers – but rather, appreciate the impact on the whole Internet value chain. In that context, we will continue to advocate for clear and efficient notice & action regimes underpinned by judicial authority, in the ongoing EU-level legislative discussions around copyright reform, illegal content, and media regulation.