Council of Ministers – Government presents legislative package on online hatred

In this, the statements from the assessment process were taken into account and several readjustments were made. The provisions for the protection of users on communication platforms only apply to large, profit-oriented platforms. And the threats of punishment for upskirting, which were criticized as too high, were partly reduced.

The ministers responsible for the legislative package, Alma Zadic (Greens) and Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP), were enthusiastic about their work in the press foyer after the Council of Ministers. “A good day begins with a government proposal against hatred on the Internet,” said Edtstadler. A “proper appraisal procedure” was important to her, and the fine-tuning has now been carried out according to this.

Hatred on the net spreads uncontrollably. And the terrorist attack in Vienna showed that this hatred could turn into violence in the analog world. Online platforms often form an echo chamber here. “We do not want to look on here any longer. The problem is an acute one and therefore there is now a need for action,” said Edtstadler. However, a European solution is also needed, which is why it is in intensive exchange with the EU Commission, where a “Digital Services Act” is currently being prepared. For the current draft law, the notification procedure to the Commission will run until December 2nd.

“Hate and violence online have been with us for a long time. And words can quickly be followed by deeds,” added Zadic. “Comprehensive solutions are needed for this phenomenon that affects society as a whole.” With the “comprehensive package” agreed today, on the one hand, platform regulation was created and, on the other hand, civil and criminal law was adapted, said the Minister of Justice. “The main goal was to enable those affected to gain their rights faster and more cheaply, to give them tools in order to defend themselves against hate postings.”

This will be done with the new urgent procedure by means of an application for an omission from the district court, explained Zadic. This means that you can request deletion from the perpetrator or the platform within a few days. However, the concerns in the assessment process were also addressed and several specifications were made, for example with regard to data security or the revision of personal rights, which could have made research on victims and perpetrators of National Socialism more difficult. Science and art have been excluded here. In upskirting, pure photography is only sanctioned with up to six instead of twelve months imprisonment. If the pictures are also disseminated, it will remain at one year.

How many additional staff the courts will need as a result of the new laws, which are due to come into force on January 1, is not yet known, said Zadic. It will be an automated express procedure, so it is difficult to assess. You will observe the additional effort and then react accordingly.

There is a further exception for videos on “video sharing platforms” such as Youtube and on social networks such as Facebook. These – like encyclopedias, trading and educational platforms as well as non-profit platforms – are exempt from the new rules of the Communication Platforms Act. This is because a separate EU directive applies to video services, according to which action must be taken against illegal content at the headquarters of the respective company.

In response to an APA request, the Federal Chancellery said that comments on YouTube do fall under the reporting and sanctioning regime of the new law. With regard to the videos, however, a “strict country of origin principle” applies due to the “Audiovisual Media Services Directive”. This applies not only to dedicated “video sharing platforms”, but also to videos in social networks such as Facebook or Instagram, if videos represent an “essential part” of the offer there. Action against potentially illegal videos must therefore be taken at the respective company headquarters – e.g. in Ireland.

Speaking of which: The draft law passed by the government on Wednesday also new that the media authority KommAustria must submit a list of the companies covered by the Communication Platforms Act. This list, which is updated annually, should therefore show who has to adhere to the new rules.

The revised legislative package against “online hatred” was received with a relatively positive response. The NEOS were waiting, but spoke of positive announcements in view of the changes in the government bill. The Internet Service Provider Austria (ISPA) and the civil rights organization also found improvements. The SPÖ was critical. The fact that the penalty for “upskirting” was reduced is completely incomprehensible, it said there.

FPÖ constitution spokeswoman Susanne Fürst criticized the revised legislative package as “censorship of opinion”. In the opinion of the Freedom Party, there was a need for a clear distinction between freedom of expression on the one hand and actually criminal behavior on the other, argued Fürst. One rejects excessive punishment for “emotional outbreaks on the Internet”.


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