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UN human rights experts concerned about EU’s online counter-terrorism proposal

GENEVA (12 December 2018) -  UN human rights experts have raised concerns about the European Union’s Proposal for a Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online, calling on the EU to ensure that it is brought into line with human rights standards. 

“We recognise the need to prevent the dissemination of terrorist content online,” the experts said. “However, we have serious concerns that the Proposal’s overly broad definition of what constitutes ‘terrorist content’ could include legitimate forms of content.

“The definition as it stands could encompass legitimate forms of expression, such as reporting conducted by journalists and human rights organisations on the activities of terrorist groups and on counter-terrorism measures taken by authorities,” they said  in a letter to the EU on 7 December. The letter lists the experts’ concerns and recommends changes to the Proposal. 

The experts said that the proposed legislation, along with the threat of penalties for non-compliance, would likely result in platforms removing lawful content.

Freedom of expression is a prerequisite for the effective promotion and protection of a broad range of human rights, including rights that cannot be lawfully limited such as freedom of opinion, they said. “Therefore, as a matter of principle, limitations on freedom of expression must remain the exception and should be applied strictly so as to ‘not put in jeopardy the right itself’,” the experts said. 

“But our concerns go beyond definitions,” they added. “The Proposal may lead to infringements to the right to access to information, freedom of opinion, expression, and association, and could impact interlinked political and public interest processes.” 

They said the best way to prevent Internet platforms being used for terrorist purposes was for the authorities and service providers to work together, using international human rights law and the framework set out under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

“We regret that the Proposal fails to require companies to develop terms of service and community standards for content regulation in accordance with human rights standards,” the experts said. “By allowing the authorities to request private actors to remove content that the authorities cannot themselves remove in a way that complies with human rights standards, the Proposal creates an ‘escape route’ from human rights oversight,” the experts said.

The experts urged continued dialogue with the EU on the issue. 


Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mr. Joe Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

For more information and media requests please contact:
Mr. Sharof Azizov (+41 22 917 9748 / sazizov@ohchr.org) or write to srct@ohchr.org; Ms. Marina Narvaez (+ 41 22 917 9615 / mnarvaez@ohchr.org; Ms. Azin Tadjdini (+41 22 917 9400 / atadjdini@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.