Nations around the world are cracking down on online terrorist content, introducing legislation that penalizes sites and ISPs if they fail to remove suspect content. But that fight could pose a real threat to sites like the Internet Archive, a nonprofit that saves old copies of webpages and other digital information.
In a blog post yesterday, the organization explained that it received more than 550 takedown notices from the European Union in the past week “falsely identifying hundreds of URLs on archive.org as ‘terrorist propaganda’.”
The notices came from Europol’s European Union Internet Referral Unit (or EU IRU) and its French counterpart. They included URLs for major collection pages, each containing millions of items (e.g., “https://archive.org/details/texts” and “https://archive.org/details/television”) as well as links to scientific research and US government reports, including TV footage from CSPAN.
Under legislation that the EU is currently drafting, the Internet Archive could have been hit with penalties — including fines of up to 4 percent of its global revenue — for not honoring such takedown notices within an hour.
In a blog post written by the Internet Archive’s Chris Butler, he notes that not only were the takedown notices incorrect — they identified URLs that linked to all books the site hosts, for example — but they were also sent in the middle of the night when the site’s staff was asleep.
“How can the proposed legislation realistically be said to honor freedom of speech if these are the types of reports that are currently coming from EU law enforcement and designated governmental reporting entities?” writes Butler.
The EU isn’t the only government entity considering such changes either; the UK, Canada, and Australia are all mulling tighter regulations on online platforms. Proponents of these bills tend to emphasize the inability of companies like YouTube and Twitter to police what is uploaded to their sites, but they dismiss the potential for false takedowns and overreach.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, says the Internet Archive’s experience demonstrated the problems of demanding swift takedown notices.
“The fact that the police are not always accurate and are not required to get their work checked by an independent authority means that these processes are especially fragile,” Killock tells The Verge. He adds that unwarranted takedowns are already commonplace in the UK where, since 2010, the government’s internet counter-terrorism unit has issued more than a quarter of a million requests.
“We should not accept changes to the law pushing platforms to act as the police and judicial authorities, and empowering the police to work without oversight,” Killock says.
A spokesperson for Europol told The Verge that of the 25 URLs highlighted by name by the Internet Archive as false, all were requests by the French IRU unit. Such national units often send takedown requests using Europol’s domain. The spokesperson said that they were not able to share any of the other URLs that had been included in the takedown notices, but noted that since 2014 the Internet Archive has complied with 64 percent of its requests.