The last day of June 2017 was particularly eventful with the German parliament railroading two important media and tech law bills: First, the Network Enforcement Act was drafted to fight against online hate speech and fake news. Companies shall be forced to delete respective comments immediately or otherwise face large fines of up to € 5 million. Second, the German Telemedia Act has been amended and is supposed to make life easier for Wi-Fi operators by limiting their responsibility for their users.
Network Enforcement Act
On June 30th 2017 the new Network Enforcement Act was approved by the German parliament. After noticing an increase of hate speech and fake news on the internet, Germany decided to take action by forcing big social media companies such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter (min. two million users) to remove evidently unlawful content within 24 hours while decisions on unclear cases shall be investigated within a week. Via “Regulated Self-Regulation” an in-house body supervised by the government has the responsibility to review these cases. The companies are now facing fines of up to € 5 million in the case of infringement of its duties.
The bill is highly debated: critics say the law shifts legal responsibility from the state to private companies. Also it is argued that the new law will limit freedom of expression by companies “overblocking” comments on social media. Considering the fines, platforms would likely delete lawful content when in doubt. The word “censorship” is back again.
The new law also obliges the companies to appoint a “representative” in Germany who has to answer to authorities’ requests within two days. Another regulation states that judges have the exclusive authority to decide on the users’ data disclosure which shall be permitted only in cases of serious violation of personality rights. The law is due to come into effect in October 2017, in case German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier actually signs the bill.
Germany’s leading parties have finally decided to overcome the barriers for open Wi-Fi networks; hence the Telemedia Act has been amended on the same day. The draft law shall enable providers of public Wi-Fi to run their hotspots without being held responsible for their users’ copyright infringements. The infamous “liability for interference (Störerhaftung)“ shall not apply to public Wi-Fi operators anymore.
State authorities would also be unable to force operators to secure their Wi-Fi by setting up a password for their customers. However, it remains to be seen whether this rule is compliant with EU law. In the McFadden judgement of the ECJ from 2016, the court held, that national courts are allowed – under certain circumstances – to force a Wi-Fi operator to secure their hotspot connection with a password. The law is also up to be passed by the German Federal President in autumn 2017.