Ministers Back Bill That Would Allow Court to Censor Internet

Bill gives court power to order companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove inciting content.

Jonathan Lis
Rafaella Goichman
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Jonathan Lis
Rafaella Goichman

A bill that would give the courts the power to block internet content that incites violence received the backing of the governing coalition on Sunday when it was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Dubbed the Facebook law, it would give the district court the power to issue orders to internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google requiring that they remove inciting content that violates the criminal statutes and that presents a concrete threat the safety of an individual or the public at large or to state security.

Approval by the ministerial committee virtually assures the bill’s passage in some form by the Knesset, but it could be subject to amendment in the course of the legislative process. In its current form, the bill, which was sponsored by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, allows courts to issue an order against the individual posting the content, the owner of a website or whoever operates it, whether it’s the website itself or the operator of the server on which the content is stored - in Israel or abroad.

The bill would also permit the court to issue orders against search engine services such as Google, which would be responsible for blocking access to content by removing the sites from search results.

The law wouldn’t require companies like Facebook to monitor content that might incite to violence. It simply requires the removal of content that the government had identified as inciting. The request would come from the state prosecutor or a police prosecutor, with the approval of the attorney general.

“The problem with the law is that it is designed to obscure the view of the Israeli public but not to prevent people from posting things that could harm the security of the country. This is a law that lets the police obtain an order blocking access to a specific website without bring the person who posted it to justice,” says Jonathan Klinger, a lawyer specializing in information law who is legal adviser to the organization the Digital Rights Movement.

Facebook responded by saying that "there's nothing more important than the security of the community, and we work hard so that people will be safe. We have zero tolerance for terrorists, praise for their actions and for incitement to violence in the real world. We act aggressively to remove such things from our platform the moment we become aware of them."

"We are constantly working to improve the effectiveness of our safety measures and conduct an ongoing dialogue with other companies, non-governmental organizations and law-enforcement bodies. Only this month, Facebook, together with other American technology companies, announced the setting up of a common database of violent terror content, including videos and photos, to enable us to act faster against content of this kind. This move will aid the war on terror on the internet and is the outcome of cooperation – not regulation," it added.

Facebook further added that "We hope to continue to maintain a helpful dialogue with the government in Israel and other interested parties. We hope that there'll be a careful examination of the implications of this law on Israeli democracy, freedom of expression, an open internet and the buoyancy of Israeli internet."

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