Due to some problems with their website, the European Commission have extended the deadline for submissions to the 'notice and takedown' consultation. This is actually pretty good news for anyone who has yet to submit a response - you still have until Tuesday 11th September to have your say. The Commission are asking for responses to a questionnaire.
The consultation is basically about how illegal content is dealt with by online intermediaries (meaning things like social networks or search engines and so on). Central to this is 'notice and action' (N&A), where a hosting provider is notified about some apparently illegal content and then some action is taken to deal with it. As the EC's 'roadmap' (where they set out some of the key points on the issue) says, "N&A procedures are at the heart of debates on the freedom of speech, innovation, security and the dangers of the internet in particular for vulnerable groups."
A significant concern is that currently N&A procedures lack sufficient due process, leading to legal content being removed on the basis of mere allegations. Abuses of the process are also a significant concern, again leading to content being taken down when it shouldn't. N&A procedures are crucial to questions of freedom of expression online – with the removal of legal content chilling citizens’ right to receive and impart information.
After hearing concerns that the current system is fragmented and is pleasing nobody, the Commission said in January that these procedures "must therefore be made more efficient, within a framework which guarantees legal certainty, the proportionality of the rules governing businesses and respect for fundamental rights" (From the Communication on e-commerce and other online services (2012))
We'll be telling them that they need to pay attention to due process and make sure there are robust mechanisms for establishing the illegality of content, for challenging contestable claims and getting redress when things go wrong, and effective sanctions for those that abuse the process. We'll also highlight some of the recent examples where things have gone wrong, and the issues of mistaken blocking we raised in our mobile Internet censorship report. Fundamentally, this is about who or what decides when we should not be allowed to look at something online, and what happens when they get it wrong (mistakenly or otherwise)?
If this is something you are concerned about, please submit something to the consultation. The Commission are asking to responses via their questionnaire. The deadline is Tuesday 11th September.
Some organisations have already submitted responses. EDRi have put up their submission and annex, and La Quadrature du Net have published theirs too. You can read some notes from JANET here (JANET is the network that connects the UK's research and education institutions). Saskia Walzel of Consumer Focus has posted about the consultation on ORGZine and at the LSE Media Policy Project blog.