By David Meyer
September 12, 2018

The European Union may hit companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter with yet another new law that comes with massive fines for non-compliance, and this time it’s all about terror.

Much as the General Data Protection Regulation threatens companies with fines of up to 4% of global revenues if they break the EU’s privacy rules, a new piece of legislation would levy similar penalties if they don’t remove terrorist propaganda from their platforms within an hour of a “competent” authority telling them to do so.

What’s a competent authority? That would be up to each EU country to decide.

“Europeans rightly expect their Union to keep them safe. This is why the Commission is today proposing new rules to get terrorist content off the web within one hour—the critical window in which the greatest damage is done,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his annual State of the Union speech on Wednesday.

The legislation marks a new phase in a very long-running battle between European lawmakers and big U.S. tech firms, over the issue of extremist content. At the moment, the online platforms’ efforts to remove such content are mostly self-regulatory, although Germany moved on to full-blown legislation last year.

The Commission has long been threatening Facebook and YouTube with a new law if they don’t improve their takedown times. The companies claim they’ve been making significant progress through the use of automated detection technology that internally flags up terrorist propaganda before outsiders do.

Interestingly, the Commission claims that its new proposal does not clash with another EU law, the e-Commerce Directive, which exempts online platforms from having to actively monitor everything that their users upload. “A decision by national authorities to impose proportionate and specific proactive measures should not, in principle, lead to the imposition of a general obligation to monitor,” the proposal reads.

European Digital Rights (EDRi), a civil liberties organization, claimed the proposed law was being pitched as urgent because of the upcoming European elections next year. “Instead of analyzing the impact of existing initiatives, the Commission has proposed yet more ill-defined measures,” said Maryant Fernández Pérez, a senior policy advisor with the group.

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