Austria: New “responsibility” law will lead to self-censorship

Shortly after the EU gave green light to upload filters, two laws were proposed in Austria, with the alleged goal of tackling online hate speech, that rang the alarm bells.

The law “on care and responsibility on the net” forces media platforms with forums to store detailed data about their users in order to deliver them in case of a possible offence not only to police authorities, but also to other users who want to legally prosecute another forum user. The other law is there to introduce a tax on digital ad sales, but in practice forces platforms to engage in online surveillance that is currently outlawed. Looking at the laws in detail, it is obvious that they contain so many problematic passages that their intended purpose is completely undermined.

According to the Minister of Media, Gernot Blümel, harmless software will deal with the personal data processing. One of the risks of such a system would be the potential for abuse from public authorities or individuals requesting a platform provider the person’s name and address with the excuse to wanting to investigate or sue them − and then use the information for entirely other purposes. Rather than improving safety online, the resulting “chilling effect” will lead to individuals avoiding sharing their most controversial opinions on a forum that possesses their detailed personal data. In essence, this is a way of imposing self-censorship on individuals. The proposed laws would concern only a handful of platforms in Austria. The aim is quite clear: to diminish the public democratic discourse and to try to intimidate those who think differently politically.

This law is not alone in restricting online freedoms. During its EU Council presidency, Austria decided to not make a clear rejection of unlawful data retention − a concept that has already been judged several times as contrary to fundamental rights by the European Court of Justice. Furthermore, back at home, the Austrian Federal Government is trying to collect as much data as possible about citizens and with new surveillance laws and porn filters based on the British model. The goal is clear: To monitor people every step of the way on the internet and limit their leeway.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz argues that the internet is not a legal vacuum and that laws apply to the online world too. He’s right. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also applies to the online world. We must not allow this creeping undermining and abolition of privacy, data protection, freedom of expression and participation in political discourse. It is time to stand up for these fundamental rights. Let us demand a transparent state instead of a transparent citizen!

Originally published on EDRi.org