Police have raided dozens of residences in Germany as a part of a Europe-wide effort to silence online speech deemed racist and xenophobic.
European Union law enforcement agency Europol and German prosecutors say that police have searched 83 apartments and other buildings on Tuesday to seize smartphones and laptops while 96 people are being questioned about “hateful posts” they made online, reports Reuters.
Reports suggest that some of the raids have been justified over anti-Semitic comments and in one instance insulting female politicians.
A Europol spokesman confirmed to Reuters that the raids specifically focused on online posts that promote racism and xenophobia.
The speech clampdown is a part of an annual drive lead by German prosecutors, in company with Italy, France, Greece, Norway, Britain and the Czech Republic, under the coordination of Europol.
Similar raids to those that took place on Tuesday also occurred in 2019 when German police raided dozens of homes across the country for online posts deemed anti-Semitic insults, an insult to officials or a call for others to commit crimes.
Germany is home to some of the most authoritarian defamation and speech laws that stretch into a subjective realm of enforcement.
Under Section 130 of the German criminal code, it is a crime to insult, maliciously slur or defame parts of the population ‘in a manner violating their human dignity.’
In 2018, Germany put into place the “NetzDG” law that says social media platforms must remove “hate speech” within within 24 hours of receiving complaints from users and within seven days when content evaluation is more difficult.
Critics of the law say that it is a danger to free speech because it is too vague and overbroad, lacking clear definitions, and decisions on “hate speech” cases.
“Governments and the public have valid concerns about the proliferation of illegal or abusive content online, but the new German law is fundamentally flawed,” Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch said of NetzDG after its passage. “It is vague, overbroad, and turns private companies into overzealous censors to avoid steep fines, leaving users with no judicial oversight or right to appeal.”
Human Rights Watch would write:
Two key aspects of the law violate Germany’s obligation to respect free speech, Human Rights Watch said. First, the law places the burden on companies that host third-party content to make difficult determinations of when user speech violates the law, under conditions that encourage suppression of arguably lawful speech. Even courts can find these determinations challenging, as they require a nuanced understanding of context, culture, and law. Faced with short review periods and the risk of steep fines, companies have little incentive to err on the side of free expression
The German government defends the law as a public protection to dangerous speech spewed by fringe far-right political groups who usually rail against the nation’s domestic immigration policy.
Provide, Protect and Profit from what’s coming! Get a free issue of Counter Markets today.