German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government wants to revive a controversial hate speech law citing the recent mayhem on the U.S. Capitol Hill.

According to the draft legislation, social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube will be obliged to hand over user data to Germany’s Federal Police (BKA) — merely on the basis of complaint and before any wrongdoing has been established, news reports say.

The bill to this effect has already been passed by the German parliament Bundestag in June 2020. But the public outrage surrounding its provisions forced Berlin to shelve the bill. With reports of violence in the Capitol Hill dominating the headlines, Chancellor Merkel’s government is pushing for new legal powers to stamp out undesired content on the social media and the web.

The proposed law will be in addition to the existing online hate speech act passed by the Bundestag in 2017. Germany’s Network Enforcement Act obliges social media platforms, including Facebook and Google, to remove objectionable content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €50 million ($57 million).

The German state broadcaster Deutsche Well, on Friday, reported the government’s push:

In June 2020, the Bundestag approved the legislation that would ensure prosecution for those perpetrating hate or provoking it, online.

According to the draft legislation, social networks would be obliged to hand over the data of users who post threats or incite hatred, to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).

“We must dry up the breeding ground where this extremism flourishes,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said at the time.

But data protection and privacy provisions in Germany’s Basic Law led to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s reluctance to sign off on the legislation.

The law, which had already been passed by Germany’s two parliamentary chambers, was stopped in its tracks because of guidelines issued by the Constitutional Court. At the time, Steinmeier urged for the necessary changes to be “drafted and introduced as soon as possible.”

At the heart of the dispute was a requirement for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to report hate comments to police, who would then be able to access the data, such as the IP address, of the author.

Revisions to the legislation are to be debated by the Bundestag in a first reading next week and could be passed at the end of the month to allow Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat, to pass it in early February.

“The attack on Capitol Hill shows us again how powerful social media networks are,” CDU parliamentarian Thorsten Frei told the Rheinische Post newspaper. Therefore it was a matter of urgency to enable police to investigate all channels and identify perpetrators.

The proposed bill requires social media platforms to hand over personal information on individual users to police even before a violation of the hate speech law has been established. One of its provisions “will require platforms to send suspected criminal content directly to the Federal police at the point it’s reported by a user,” the TechCrunch reported in June 2020.

Noting the flaws of the proposed German law, the Belgian news outlet Euractive reported last June: “Social networks must now not only delete potentially criminal content but also report it to the [German] Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).” The publication cautioned that “some data will have to be forwarded to the authorities, even before they have established suspicion.”

Chancellor Merkel’s government began tightening Germany’s hate speech laws in the wake on the Migrant Crisis. The push to clamp down on undesired social media content gained urgency in the aftermath of the 2015 New Year’s Eve mass sexual assaults carried out by immigrants in Cologne and other German cities.

While Merkel’s government has been busy policing online speech critical of its migrant policies, it has turned a blind eye to violent Islamism. Mosques across Germany go unpunished for inciting violence against ‘non-believers’ by preaching the Islamic doctrine of jihad.

While undesired speech is treated as a violent crime in Merkel’s Germany, the actual acts of violence are justified as free speech. In 2017, the Wuppertal regional court acquitted three Palestinian arsonists guilty of setting fire to a synagogue. The court it its ruling justified the violent act as a legitimate political protest to draw “attention to the Gaza conflict” with Israel and “deemed the attack not to be motivated by antisemitism.”

 

 
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