The Christchurch attack has promoted discussions on the mandatory removal of online content. At several levels, the German government is involved in global initiatives. However, the German exaggerated requests for deletion find little sympathy.
The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is not very successful in removing terrorist Internet content. With 2,800 files or postings, not even half of all German reports were removed by Internet service providers after an examination. This was written by the Federal Ministry of the Interior in response to a parlamentarian question.
Thus the BKA is clearly below the quota of 85%, as it is reached by the EU police agency Europol for reports to the companies. Since 2015, Europol has been sending requests for deletion via its “Internet Referral Unit” (EU IRU). In October last year, the BKA also set up a “national Internet Referral Unit” and since then has sent more than 6,000 reports to Internet service providers via the Europol channel.
Right-wing extremist postings not dealt with
Why only 2,800 videos, pictures, text files or web pages were deleted on German desire, the Ministry does not write. One reason could be that the BKA also classifies expressions of opinion as terrorist or extremist. So far, the European Referral Units have only dealt with Islamist content, and for some time migrant smugglers have also been removing websites. They do not follow right-wing extremist websites or comments.
None of the reports contained a court order. Companies can therefore voluntarily decide whether content is actually removed on the basis of their terms and conditions. However, the European Union wants to adopt a regulation on “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. Referrals would then be replaced by orders that companies would have to comply with within an hour. It is also being discussed that Internet service providers should set up upload filters for material that has already been removed.
Referrals will turn into orders
In December, the EU Member States agreed on a negotiating position on the Regulation. For the Federal Government, the project has a high priority and it has also agreed to the upload filters required in the proposed regulation. The former European Parliament, however, refuses to approve these “proactive measures”. There is also disagreement on the question of whether distance orders may also be sent across borders. The MEPs demand that the usual international police mutual assistance should be adhered to. Police authorities can therefore only oblige providers in their own country to comply with the orders.
Obviously, this procedure works, because after the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, German authorities had also forwarded referrals for websites on which the crime scene video was published to the responsible foreign police forces via the international mutual assistance channel.
Negotiations in California
Many of the major Internet companies are based in the USA. The planned EU regulation on “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online” is therefore also being negotiated with the US companies. To this end, the European Commission has launched the EU Internet Forum, which met last on 6 May 2019. German authorities are also active there. In the run-up to the meeting, members of the German, French and British interior ministries travelled with the Commission to California to discuss “how the respective companies deal with terrorist online content”. It was agreed to develop a “crisis reaction protocol” according to which companies should react to real-time transmissions of crime videos.
In addition to the EU Internet Forum, the “prevention of the dissemination of terrorist online content” is dealt with in numerous other formats. The most important actor is the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), which is primarily run by Internet companies and operates a database with remote content. This hash-file is the technical backbone for upload filters.
Cooperation with Anti-IS Coalition
In March, the governmental Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) published the “Zurich-London Recommendations” on extremist and terrorist online content. The responsible working group is to develop a “toolkit” for dealing with such postings. The United Nations is also dealing with the issue. The UN Counter-Terrorism Department has launched the “Tech Against Terrorism” initiative for countering “terrorist online content”, which is financed by governments and the Internet industry.
Another platform exists in the Global Anti-IS Coalition with the Communications Working Group. The governments that have joined forces there want to use Internet companies to “reduce the visibility of the propaganda of the so-called Islamic state”. The “Aqaba Process” launched by the Kingdom of Jordan in February pursues a similar goal. The European Union is also involved.
Image: The United Nations is also dealing with “terrorist online content” (all rights reserved Tech Against Terrorism).