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Malcolm Hutty

Malaysian penalty for “fake news”: 10 years in jail

By | Content Issues, International, News

The Malaysian government has brought forward a bill in Parliament that sets the penalty for publishing so-called “fake news” online with up to ten years in jail plus a fine of 500,000 MYR (about £90,000), Reuters reports.

Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia

“The proposed Act seeks to safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news whilst ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected,” the government said in the bill.

The bill gives a broad definition to fake news, covering  “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false”. It seeks to apply the law extra-territorially, to anything published on the Internet provided Malaysia or Malaysians are affected by the article.

“Fake news” has become an increasingly popular target of political attack since Donald Trump popularised the term in his battles with CNN and other major broadcasters. In the UK, a Parliamentary Select Committee recently held their first ever hearings in Washington DC on the subject, summoning social media platforms to be lambasted for failing to suppress allegedly “fake news”. The Prime Minister’s office established a new unit to counter fake news in January.

So far, however, no UK government Minister has suggested jailing people for writing something on the Internet that isn’t right.

Council of Europe publishes guidlelines for Internet intermediaries

By | International, News

The Council of Europe has published a Recommendation to Member States on the roles and responsibilities of Internet intermediaries. The Recommendation declares that access to the Internet is a precondition for the ability effectively to exercise fundamental human rights, and seeks to protect users by calling for greater transparency, fairness and due process when interfering with content. The Recommendation also calls for greater respect for user privacy.

The Recommendations’ key provisions aimed at governments include:

  • Public authorities should only make “requests, demands or other actions
    addressed to internet intermediaries that  interferes with human rights and fundamental freedoms” when prescribed by law. This means they should therefore avoid asking intermediaries to remove content under their terms of service or to make their terms of service more restrictive.
  • Legislation giving powers to public authorities to interfere with Internet content should clearly define the scope of those powers and available discretion, to protect against arbitrary application.
  • When internet intermediaries restrict access to third-party content based on a State order, State  authorities should ensure that effective redress mechanisms are made available and adhere to applicable  procedural safeguards.
  • When intermediaries remove content based on their own terms and conditions of  service, this should not be considered a form of control that makes them liable for the third-party content for  which they provide access. 
  • Member States should consider introducing laws to prevent vexatious lawsuits designed to suppress users free expression, whether by targeting the user or the intermediary. In the US, these are known as “anti-SLAPP laws“.

The Recomendations’ provisions aimed at service providers include:

  • A “plain language” requirement for terms of service.
  • A call to include outside stakeholders in the process of drafting terms of service.
  • Transparency on how restrictions on content are applied, when, and detailed information on how algorithmic and automated means are used.
  • Transparency reporting
  • Effective remedies and complaints mechanisms for users who wish to dispute restriction of their service or content. “all remedies should allow for an impartial and independent  review of the alleged violation [of users’ rights to expression]. These should – depending on the violation in question – result in inquiry, explanation, reply, correction, apology, deletion, reconnection or compensation”.

The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental body entirely separate from the European Union. With 47 member states, it seeks to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law, including by monitoring adherence to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Its Recommendations are not legally binding on Member States, but are very influential in the development of national policy and of the policy and law of the European Union.