Dutch Hosting Provider Association (DHPA) opposes Dutch govt’s sort-of-voluntary internet censorship plan

In August 2014, the Dutch government proposed a 38 step action plan (.pdf, in Dutch) to fight jihadism. As explained here, the proposal included voluntary cooperation-based internet censorship with the purpose of reducing jihadist use of the internet. Today, the Dutch Hosting Provider Association (DHPA / @stichtingDHPA) posted a press release explaining that it, representing its members, opposes the current proposal. Here is my translation of that press release:

Dutch Internet industry and Ministry of Justice collide over fight against jihadism

Law enforcement agencies increasingly force internet companies to remove radicalizing content without court order. This leads to an impossible situation, says Michiel Steltman, director of the Dutch Hosting Provider Association (DHPA), on behalf of the internet sector. ‘Does the government want to force companies, for instance, to include jihadism in the general conditions? And how does a hoster decide what content is undesirable?’

According to the companies, the underlying problem is that the Public Prosecution does not judge many of the suspicions of the Ministry of Justice as criminal, and because of that reason refuses to prosecute, meaning that no judicial review takes place. If the Ministry of Justice still believes that the videos or documents must be removed, no other option remains than to pressure companies into complying with the request. But they say they can’t and won’t judge if something is a criminal offense.

Not a censorship agency

Steltman mentions the recent example of a group of shooting men around a campfire shouting ‘allahu ahkbar’, with some lines in Arabic. ‘Did they just kill someone, are they made because someone was killed, or are they having a party and has a goat just been slaughtered’?

In addition, Alex de Joode, company lawyer Government affairs at Leaseweb, the largest business hosting provider of the Netherlands, does not like the methods of the Ministry of Justice: ‘We are not an age verification or censorship agency. The government has a fine legal instrument to remove content, but chooses to not use that in alleged jihadism’.

Pay damages

The sector is afraid of being held responsible by eventual victims. De Joode: ‘suppose that we are wrong and illegally take down a site without a court order. That can cause us a lot of damage.’

Ever more internet companies disclose the number of demands by law enforcement agencies, including Xs4all and Leaseweb. In the US, mostly Google set this trend, following by companies such as Microsoft and Twitter.

Responsibility of companies

Dick Schoof, National Coordinator Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), considers it to be a responsibility of companies to, ‘on the basis of interpretation by the NCTV, assess the content of the website against their own general conditions. Hereby we appeal to the responsibility of the providers.’

Steltman emphasizes that internet companies are willing to establish better procedures in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice. Schoof describes the ‘currently ongoing conversation with internet companies and social media companies as very constructive’.


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