While many would argue that Americans' First Amendment rights have long since dwindled from the liberties initially granted in The Bill of Rights, a decision by the European Union's highest court could well mark the final nail in the coffin of free speech.
As Politico reports, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that Facebook can be ordered to track down and remove content globally if it was found to be illegal in any EU country. In its ruling, CJEU said that EU law allowed local judges to order the world's largest social network to remove illegal content, as well as delete material that conveyed a similar message under certain circumstances.
The decision is not just a slap in the face of worldwide citizens' freedom of expression, but a big defeat for Facebook as it will force them to be more responsible for what is appearing on the internet (and thus what is seen by those who make the rules as not appropriate for the genpop).
“This judgement raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech,” Toby Partlett, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement.
“We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression."
Of course, it won't as EU bureaucrats have hardly shown the ability to undertake measured responses when it comes to cracking down on non-sanctioned thoughts, words, and memes. Facebook officials went to exclaim that:
...the ruling "undermines the longstanding principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country."
As Politico details, the ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in 2016 by Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, an Austrian lawmaker, who had requested that Facebook delete defamatory posts made about her by an anonymous user.
When an Austrian court sided with her, the company initially only removed the content from being viewed in Austria, but subsequent appeals had focused on whether such takedowns should apply globally, and if Facebook should be required to remove similar content once it has been made aware of the defamatory material.
Following the ruling by Europe’s highest court, her case will now be referred back to Austrian judges, who will make the final ruling about how to apply Thursday’s decision.
As one would expect, digital rights campaigners were incensed by the breadth of the decision:
“The court's decision opens the door for serious restrictions on freedom of expression due to the takedown of legitimate speech. Extending removal to the vague concept of “equivalent” content is harmful because the context as well as motivation of users re-sharing content may significantly differ with each re-upload,” said Eliška Pírková, Europe policy analyst at Access Now, a campaigning group.
Those who believe tyranny cannot come to the United States should take a look around because it’s already here and as the EU court's decision shows, it is not just Washington that Americans should fear.