Germany's updated hate speech law requires sites to report users to police

Critics worry the amendment will help police create a database of people's data.

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Germany's already strict online hate speech law is about to become even more severe. On Thursday, the country's federal government passed a new provision (via TechCrunch) that will require companies like Twitter and Facebook to forward suspected illegal content to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Germany's equivalent of the FBI. The law also obligates those companies to pass on some of the poster's personal information, including their IP address.

The provision is an amendment to Germany's Network Enforcement Act -- known as NetzDG, for short. Previously, the main requirement of the law was that companies delete potentially illegal content. NetzDG was already controversial when the government first passed it in 2017. At the time, the Human Rights Watch argued that it overly incentivized online platforms to take down objectionable content due to the steep fines they could face for failing to do so. In some instances, companies can be fined as much as €50 million (roughly $56 million) for failing to comply with the law.

As you might imagine, privacy advocates aren't thrilled with this latest revision, either. One concern is that it will force private companies to help police build a database of people's personal information. Particularly worrisome is the fact the law obligates companies to transfer someone's data before there's suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Another issue is that the law effectively puts the onus of identifying and forwarding potentially harmful content on companies like Facebook and Twitter.

The addition to NetzDG is part of a broader push by Germany to control online hate speech, which the government has linked to an increase in right-wing extremism. In 2019, a neo-nazi extremist murdered Walter Lübcke, a pro-migrant member of chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party. In the lead up to the crime, Lübcke received multiple death threats.

The good news is that the German government is considering a broader reform of NetzDG that would make the law more transparent by enforcing more robust user notifications. If passed, it would also give people the right to have their posts restored in cases where they’ve successfully appealed a deletion.