A group of nearly 70 rights organizations from around the world have penned a letter to EU Internal Commissioner Thierry Breton, concerned that the EU’s new legislation might lead to internet shutdowns.
In the letter, they are urging Breton to clarify his recent statements and reassure the public that the bloc’s Digital Services Act (DSA) will not be turned into a tool to coerce online platforms into deleting “hateful content,” under threat of blocking them as punishment.
If the DSA is designed to, as the signatories put it, arbitrarily block major social networks which the EU finds are not immediately complying with “hate speech” takedown rules – then they view that as a violation of human rights protections found in international law.
Breton’s comments which upset the EFF, Access Now, ARTICLE 19, and over 60 other groups, were made in the context of recent mass civil unrest in France (the EU commissioner is a French politician). And one of the “solutions” to the social crisis the country was experiencing, Breton suggested, was to use the DSA to limit access to social sites.
But those behind the letter believe that shutting down access to the web as an essentially real-world policing measure, under the pretext of needing to silence what’s defined as hate speech, is disproportionate to the situation, and could easily worsen it by putting people at risk, including exposure to more actual disinformation.
The letter calls for the DSA to be used in what they termed a “human rights friendly” manner, but also note that a French law in the making, concerning the EU regulation, makes website blocking capability in the browser mandatory – something they say is “an unprecedented government censorship tool.”
Breton’s comments came in reaction to French President Macron bringing up the possibility of dealing with civil unrest by blocking social sites. That would put France in the company of countries around the world where “weaponization” of internet shutdowns is already regularly happening as a way to control citizens – and which gets called out as authoritarian and undemocratic by the EU itself.
The rights groups’ letter notes that the DSA’s provisions regarding the possibility of temporary restriction should only come as the last, not first, as implied by the official option.
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