EU pushes Internet firms to remove extremist content in one hour, plans fines over misuse of voter data

The European Commission told such companies in March that they had three months to show they were removing extremist content more rapidly or face legislation forcing them to do so.
The European Commission told such companies in March that they had three months to show they were removing extremist content more rapidly or face legislation forcing them to do so. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS/STRASBOURG (REUTERS) - The European Commission will propose new laws on Wednesday (Sept 12) giving Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet companies one hour to remove extremist content or face fines.

The European Union executive will also propose new fines for misusing voters’ data to sway elections, as it seeks to guard against a repeat of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, especially in an EU parliament vote next May.

The Commission told Internet companies in March that they had three months to show they were removing extremist content more rapidly, or face legislation forcing them to do so.

The Commission wants content inciting or advocating extremist offences, promoting extremist groups, or showing how to commit such acts to be removed from the Web within a hour of receiving a corresponding order from national authorities.

In a proposal that will need backing from EU countries and the European Parliament, Internet platforms will also be required to take proactive measures, such as developing new tools to weed out abuse and human oversight of content.

Service providers will have to provide annual transparency reports to show their efforts in tackling abuse.

Providers systematically failing to remove extremist content could face fines of up to 4 per cent of annual global turnover. However, content providers will have the right to challenge removal orders.

In turn, national governments are asked to put in place the capacity to identify extremist content online, sanctions, and an appeals procedure.

The industry has also been working since December 2015 in a voluntary partnership to stop the misuse of the Internet by international extremist groups, later creating a "database of hashes" to better detect extremist content.

The Commission will retain a voluntary code of conduct on hate speech with Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube in 2016. Other companies have since announced plans to join it.

FINES FOR MISUSING VOTER DATA

The EU executive will also propose new fines for misusing voters’ data to sway elections. EU regulators have sought more powers to protect against privacy breaches since the data of millions of EU citizens were among those used by the British political consultancy to build profiles on voters and influence the US presidential election in 2016.

The proposal, which officials said will be contained in a keynote annual address by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, comes amid concerns that anti-EU parties or malign foreign actors will target the election to the EU legislature next year.

The measure specifically targets political parties and political foundations with the threat of a fine of up to 5 per cent of their annual budget if they are found in breach of data protection rules with the aim of influencing a ballot.

To guard against disinformation campaigns, the Commission will also ask national governments to make online political advertising subject to stricter transparency rules.

A senior EU official said the Commission saw a risk that some national votes could be manipulated. The draft plan still needs the approval of national governments and European Parliament to become law.

While voter targeting is not illegal, the new measures are in line with the EU’s push to ensure that personal data is not used without consent.

The bloc adopted new privacy regulations that are among the world’s toughest, requiring firms to be more cautious on how they handle customer data or face fines of up to 4 per cent of global revenue or €20 million (S$32 million).