EU, Czech gov't seek to regulate internet

Encryption and hate speech are coming under scrutiny due to terror attacks

Communications over the internet may become less private and hate speech may be removed faster in response to the terror attacks in the UK and in other places in Europe.

New measures for monitoring cyberspace are being prepared by the European Union and the Czech Republic. Neighboring Germany is also looking at tough regulations. Britain, which is in the process of leaving the EU, has been focusing on the issue as well.

The European Commission this month will be looking at ways to deal with encryption. The Commission will propose new measures this month to make it easier for police to access data on internet messaging apps such as WhatsApp that use encryption.

Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, previously said the Commission will propose three or four options in June to allow law enforcement authorities to demand information from internet messaging apps with a swift, reliable response.

“At the moment, prosecutors, judges, also police and law enforcement authorities, are dependent on whether or not providers will voluntarily provide the access and the evidence. This is not the way we can facilitate and ensure the security of Europeans, being dependent on some voluntary action,” Jourová said in March.

Encrypted messaging apps have been used by terrorists for planning and for committing their acts, according to media reports.

Separate from the EU efforts, the Czech Republic is also pushing for stronger laws to monitor the internet. The Czech Parliament is dealing with an amendment to the Military Intelligence Act that would allow the government to install black boxes on the networks of internet providers. This would give the government access to any information that flows across the internet in the Czech Republic.

It is not clear if the draft amendment will pass through Parliament before the October elections, daily Hospodářské noviny reported.

Germany has proposed a draft law that would fine social networks such as Facebook up to €50 million for not removing hate speech. Germany has some of the toughest hate speech laws in the world.

Britain is also now calling for harsh penalties for spreading hate speech. “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said, following the recent terror attacks in the UK.

“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning,” she added.

But there has been some progress in fighting hate speech online. Last year, the European Commission and four major social media platforms announced a Code of Conduct aimed at countering illegal online hate speech. It included a series of commitments by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft to combat hate speech in Europe. An evaluation carried out by NGOs and public bodies in 24 EU members shows that the companies have made significant progress in following up on their commitments.

“The results of our second evaluation of the Code of Conduct are encouraging. The companies are now removing twice as many cases of illegal hate speech and at a faster rate when compared to six months ago. This is an important step in the right direction and shows that a self-regulatory approach can work, if all actors do their part,” Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said in a statement on June 1.

“At the same time, companies carry a great responsibility and need to make further progress to deliver on all the commitments. For me, it is also important that the IT companies provide better feedback to those who notified cases of illegal hate speech content,” she said.

The IT companies in the Code of Conduct have committed to reviewing the majority of notifications of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and to removing or disabling the content, if necessary.

In the recent review, on average in 59 percent of the cases, the IT companies responded to notifications about illegal hate speech by removing the content. This is more than twice the level that was recorded six months earlier.

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