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Germany plans law to tackle “right-wing extremism”, force Facebook, Gmail and more to hand over passwords

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Germany is looking for ways to ramp up its already controversial Network Enforcement Act, NetzDG. Passed in 2017, it has attracted a lot of criticism for the treatment of third party content on social media platforms, massive fines, and short (24-hour) deadlines for removal of what is termed as “manifestly unlawful” content.

But NetzDG obviously doesn’t serve Germany’s authorities well, considering the current concerted effort by ministers from both of the county’s ruling parties, CDU and SPD, to build on NetzDG in order to counter online “hate speech” even more rigorously.

German tech website Heise writes about this new law that is now in the drafting stage, proposed by Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht.

One of the highlights from the draft that specifically targets right-wing extremism and hate speech is the plan to force platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, Tinder, and others to turn over sensitive personal information like account passwords, IPs and phone numbers of their users to the authorities – in some cases, reportedly, even without a court order.

Just like the NetzDG act, this legislation doesn’t apply only to social media platforms but more broadly to any business entities providing telecommunications services.

However, the proposed new bill doesn’t make it clear how platforms would be able to turn over securely encrypted passwords to the authorities, as the text doesn’t go into the specifics, although it does mention that “all” data sources available internally must be included when complying with an order. This likely includes plain text versions of passwords, should they exist.

As for who the authorities are entitled to ask for this data, the article says the definition “could hardly be any broader” – from misdemeanor and criminal prosecutors, security agencies, federal and state governments, customs and those enforcing labor rules.

Critics are surprised and extremely concerned because of the new draft, that goes quite a few steps further than NetzDG, itself often described as putting pressure on platforms to censor speech and take down content.

Germany’s Bitkom digital association said the initiative to pass such a law feels rushed and is alarming for its ability to “throw overboard basic values ​​that have shaped our coexistence online and offline for decades.” Opposition parties are also warning about a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Germany.

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