Online terrorist content and Brexit

Last updated 19 September 2019

Relevant EU legislation: Proposal for a Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online

This pertains to a proposal to create an EU-wide set of guidelines regarding terrorist content on online platforms which offer services in the EU regardless of their location. It would establish a clear definition of what constitutes terrorist content; place a duty of care on providers to prevent the spread of terrorist content, which may include pre-emptive and proactive content filtering; require platforms to notify law enforcement of evidence of terrorist offenses; and, in a highly publicised move, require a “one-hour takedown” of terrorist content, meaning that platforms and providers would be required to take down that content within one hour of being notified of its existence.

This places the UK government in an awkward position: the EU is proposing the exact sort of regulation, housed within the Digital Single Market structure, that successive Home Secretaries have craved, at the exact time the UK is withdrawing from the Digital Single Market. It also knows that terrorism is inherently borderless and international, despite its drive to turn Britain into a bordered and isolated nation. In short, the proposal’s existence challenges all the knots that the UK has tied itself into during the Brexit process.


In October 2018 the European Scrutiny Committee reviewed the proposal and stated that “the UK will be bound to implement the proposal if it is adopted and takes effect before the UK’s exit from the EU (on 29 March 2019) or during a post-exit transition period ending on 31 December 2020.”

It also noted that the proposal’s provisions could be implemented domestically, partially or in full, by the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill.

This fine print in an obscure set of minutes is quietly extraordinary. It is a concession that there are some areas of the Digital Single Market strategy that the UK government has decided are essential after all. And in the event of a hard Brexit, it leaves the UK craving participation in a system it desperately wants.

Please also see parts one and two of the Cabinet Office explanatory memorandum.

In November 2018 the ESC discussed government’s response to its October update and noted that the timing of the regulation as Brexit approaches is cutting it very, very close to the wire.

In January 2019 the ESC reviewed December’s draft compromise text of the Regulation, acknowledging “the possibility that elements of the proposed Regulation may conflict with the national constitutions of some Member States, or raise censorship concerns, is no small matter.” Mozilla’s policy and advocacy team has explained why those wider concerns matter

Outside the UK, this piece on the problems with the draft regulation at the EU level is worth reading.

In its brief sitting between the summer 2019 recess and prorogation, the ESC had its final say on the proposed terrorist content legislation, stating that the domestic online harms white paper framework would be the better way to go. The European Memoranda files reveal just how hardline government’s stance is on that opinion. The hard line makes for table-banging headlines, but it also makes for a post-European Britain with harder, stricter, and more restrictive rules than elsewhere in Europe.