Marco Pancini, senior policy counsel at Google who attended the conference, said his company found it to be “very delicate work” to find the right way to avoid abuses of free speech. He called for an open debate on how to tackle the challenges.
“We don’t want to be left alone in taking action because we don’t believe in… simply leaving it to trust,” he said. “It is not the role of the intermediaries to be judge and jury. It’s to empower people to express themselves.”
Some European countries, like Poland, are attempting to move enforcement oversight from the private to the public sector. The legislature there is considering a law in which any webpage could be taken down without prior notice if complaints are received, a government minister said. But as currently envisioned, several activists said, Poland’s proposed law lacks a clear provision for the right of appeal for those who are affected by a takedown. 

Dawn Nunziato, professor of copyright law at George Washington University, said that if any Internet speech is to be blocked, it must be done with transparency, notice, and foreseeability. There can’t be any secret blocking or filtering, she said. Internet users must be able to predict in advance what the scope of the restriction is going to be. And, she added, they must have the right to appeal.

She told delegates of the 57 member states of the OSCE that they must act with care to safeguard free speech.

“It you’re going to distinguish between legal speech and illegal speech, you’re required to use a scalpel and not a sledgehammer,” she said.

Disclosures: The reporter has received money from OSCE, for editing its annual report. CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.

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Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.