Upload filters: Europol is creating facts

The planned EU Regulation on the removal of „terrorist content online“ has no longer made it through the legislative process; in autumn the newly elected parliament will decide on it. The governments hope that the MEPs will then vote in favour of tightening up the legislation.

On 12 September, the EU Commission presented its proposal for a for a Regulation on „preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online“. It was to be voted on in an urgent procedure under the current EU Parliament, but was not able to make it through the necessary trilogue procedure between Council, Parliament and Commission.

According to the Commission and Council, the regulation would force Internet service providers to remove „extremist“ and „terrorist“ files as quickly as possible. To this end, the law enforcement authorities are to issue removal orders which must be complied with within an hour. This applies to videos, images, text files or entire websites. Companies should also take „proactive“ measures to prevent the re-uploading of files that have already been removed. These „automated tools“ are upload filters.

Parliament against upload filters and cross-border removal orders

First, on 6 December, the Council broadly supported the Commission proposal and established its negotiating position with Parliament (the so-called general approach). It was not until the last week of its session that the Parliament finally adopted its position on the proposal at first reading on 17 April 2019. Although MEPs were in favour of short deletion periods, companies should not be forced to install upload filters.

According to the EU Parliament, removal orders should also not be issued across borders. In plain language, this means that a national authority can force domestic internet providers to remove content, but not in another EU member state. According to the will of the MEPs, the national police authorities in the member state concerned should be contacted for this purpose. They would then be responsible for checking and removing the content.

Six million euros for technical infrastructure

Meanwhile, the Police Agency has long been in the process of setting up the technical infrastructure for cross-border distance orders. Under the abbreviation „PERCI“, an information system for the coordination of requests from the Member States is being set up in The Hague for which Europol has foreseen six million euros in the current budget. Internet service providers would also be connected to this platform after receiving such a request.

According to the plans, all orders issued under the Regulation to be adopted would be managed by „PERCI“. The platform will also check whether and when the files have been removed. The system logs the responsiveness of the companies. If they only comply with the requests with a delay, they are forced to take further action. This would implement a further requirement of the planned Regulation.

Commission researches search engine

Finally, „PERCI“ should also report when another Member State has already issued a removal order for the same file or wishes to keep a website online for police or secret service observation. The proposed Regulation describes this as „deconfliction“.

„PERCI“ only manages data that has become known to the authorities or Internet companies. In order to find the relevant files itself, the EU Commission is funding research into a search engine for possible criminal Internet content.

National units in the Member States

Altogether, the „Internet Referral Unit“ at Europol has already reported Internet content for removal in around 100,000 cases. As satellites, corresponding contact points for the Europol department are also being set up in each EU Member State. A German „Internet Referral Unit“ at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has already sent 6,000 reports via the Europol channel since October last year.

At present, the Internet companies can still decide voluntarily how to comply with these referrals. Like the planned removal orders, they are also managed centrally by Europol. The BKA is participating with authorities from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia and Portugal in a pilot project in which Europol is testing a platform for managing the wishes for referral. This „Internet Referral Management Application“ (IRMa) will probably also be used for (then mandatory) orders following a decision in the regulation on the removal of „terrorist online content“.

New Parliament should abandon reservations

Following the election of the new MEPs on 26 May, the regulation is to be finally adopted as quickly as possible under the Finnish EU Council Presidency. Trilogue negotiations to discuss the positions of the Council and Parliament are expected to begin in autumn.

It can be assumed that the composition of the parliament will shift significantly to the right. This will benefit the governments of the Member States and the Commission, which hope that the new MEPs will give up the reservations of the old Parliament and vote for the tightening of the Regulation.

Image: Public-Domain released by unsplash.com, Ludovic Toinel

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.