Currently, removal requests to hosting providers only have to be voluntarily complied with, but on 7 June, the regulation on mandatory removal of terrorist online content will come into force. It only applies to jihadist propaganda. The German government is only now introducing an implementation law.
Once again, Europol has held a “Referral Action Day” on the removal of internet content. This time the focus was on the online music service Soundcloud. The EU police agency reported around 1,100 illegal audio files and user profiles with terrorist or extremist content to the provider.
The “Action Day” covered the week between 5 and 13 May. The activities were led by the Counter-Terrorism Centre, which was set up at Europol by EU interior ministers in 2015. This is also where the Internet Content Reporting Unit (EU IRU) is located, which is responsible for detecting and reporting content.
Initiated by the German Federal Criminal Police
According to Europol, the action was initiated by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which, like Europol, has had a national reporting office since 2019. Other participants in the “Referral Action Day” included law enforcement agencies from Denmark, Hungary, Portugal and Spain. Despite Brexit, Great Britain was also involved.
According to the investigators, they detected “jihadist, right-wing terrorist and violent extremist propaganda” in several languages. Some of this content is said to have already achieved several thousand views and streams.
The EU IRU had once been established exclusively to pursue Islamist-motivated terrorism, followed in 2016 by its expansion to migrant smuggling. In 2019, the interior ministers had also decided to prosecute right-wing extremism and terrorism accordingly.
SoundCloud takes content offline
The profiles and audio files found to be illegal were reported to SoundCloud. After a review, the company took offline the content that was deemed to violate its terms and conditions. Europol does not specify to what extent this was done.
As yet, compliance with a request to delete content is voluntary for the ISPs concerned. However, on 7 June, the Terrorist Online Content (TCO) Removal Regulation will come into force. Hosting service providers will then have to take immediate action regarding jihadist files and profiles.
For the further storage of removed content, Europol uses the analysis project “Check-the-Web” founded by the BKA. This should make it possible to use the files in later investigations. So far, “Check-the-Web” has only been limited to jihadist content, but the extension to right-wing extremism is currently being discussed.
Test of PERCI
To collect and forward removal requests, Europol has set up the so-called PERCI platform (Plateforme Européenne de Retraits des Contenus illégaux sur Internet). The central information system enables the recognition of multiple requests for removal.
Member states can also use it to leave a flag if profiles are explicitly not to be deleted because they are being monitored by intelligence services or police in investigative proceedings (the so-called deconfliction procedure).
PERCI is supposed to be ready for use one day before the TCO Regulation comes into force; several countries are testing the platform until then. It is possible that it was also in pilot operation during the current “Action Day”. Europol has set up a so-called focus group to manage PERCI. A sub-group for deconfliction procedures is to follow soon.
German bill not before 4 May
As things stand at present, the Federal Republic will not have transposed the TCO-Vo into its own law by 7 June. Only on 4 May did the German government present a final proposal for a “Terrorist Online Content Combat Act” (TerrOIBG), which is now being discussed in the relevant committees. This will also regulate the German contact points.
The central point of contact for receiving removal orders from the federal states is the BKA. The authority is also able to issue its own orders. In order to check whether the content is actually terrorist in the sense of the EU regulation, the BKA is to cooperate with the state media authorities within the framework of an administrative agreement.
If the orders are not complied with by the hosting service providers concerned within one hour of receipt, according to the EU regulation and the German law, a penalty payment of up to five million euros may be imposed. It is also an administrative offence to “fail to restore” or unblock content “correctly, completely or in a timely manner”.
Annual costs of €2.3 million
The German Federal Network Agency is monitoring whether the hosting service providers comply with the requests. Together, the authorities are obliged to submit transparency reports from 31 March 2023.
The bill now presented also provides for amendments to the BKA Act and the Network Enforcement Act. Clarifications on terrorist content must be inserted there.
According to the federal government, the BKA will incur one-time material costs of €3 million and annual personnel costs of €1.35 million to implement the TCO-VO. The Federal Network Agency is to spend around €1 million a year on “personnel, direct material and overhead costs”.
Image: With this graphic, Europol reports the “Action Day” on SoundCloud.