Netanyahu halts Facebook bill at last-minute

There was concern that in the bill's current format, police could ask a court to remove anything from the Internet without the person who put it online even being able to respond in court.

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July 18, 2018 12:39
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a weekly cabinet meeting in May 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a weekly cabinet meeting in May 2018.. (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)

 
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prevented the passage into law of a bill Wednesday that would have required all online media providers to remove terrorist content.

The bill had passed Monday in the Knesset Law Committee and was set to pass into law in the plenum on Wednesday night. But Netanyahu asked that it be removed from the Knesset’s agenda.

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“Out of concern that freedom of expression could be harmed and to guarantee the rights of Israeli citizens to freely express their criticism online, the prime minister asked to halt the legislation of the Facebook bill and return it to its original goal of preventing online incitement to terror,” a Likud spokesman said.

“The prime minister believes the current version of the bill could be interpreted too broadly and permit censoring of opinions and gravely harming freedom of expression in Israel.”

There was concern that in the bill’s current format, police could ask a court to remove anything from the Internet without the person who put it online even being able to respond in court. Zionist Union MK Revital Swid, who initially proposed the bill, praised the prime minister for his action, saying that it had been turned into something she never intended.

“The bill was supposed to apply only to Facebook, Google and other Internet giants and require them, for the first time, to remove content that incites to terror,” she said. “But what passed in the committee was so broad and went so far that it applied to every crime and every website. It should apply only to incitement to terror.”

The justice minister would be required to report annually on the bill’s implementation to the Knesset Law Committee.

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The bill was initiated by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud).

Erdan expressed outrage at Netanyahu’s decision, saying that the bill would have only applied to crimes that could have led to “a criminal endangerment to personal, public or national security,” or could severely damage the Israeli economy or infrastructure.

Knesset Law Committee chairman Nisan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said the bill was extremely important and that he had worked on it for a year and a half with all relevant government ministries and security officials to find the proper balance.

“There were apparently greater forces at work who prevented the bill from passing,” Slomiansky said. “It is unfortunate that the prime minister did not see the bigger picture.”

Shaked and Slomiansky met with Netanyahu but failed to persuade him to reconsider.

The Israel Democracy Institute applauded Netanyahu’s decision to reevaluate the Facebook law, saying that the bill was initially formulated to help fight terrorism, but evolved into a draconian law that would allow the state far-reaching authority to remove “criminal” content from social media – including news platforms.

Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior researcher at the institute, explained that “the law would enable the state to decide whether or not content violates the Israeli penal code and remove such content, including anything from insulting a state employee, or a call for a tax boycott, to incitement to murder or terrorism. Should the current bill pass, the Start-Up Nation could be set back decades in terms of freedom of speech.”

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