German Bill Curbing Fake News Makes Social Media Users’ Personal Information Accessible to All

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By Lukas Mikelionis | 3:13 pm, April 6, 2017

Germany’s bill punishing social media networks up to 50 million euros ($53.4 million) for hate speech or fake news content also contains provisions allowing people to find the addresses and other personal information of every social media user without a judge’s decision.

On Wednesday, Germany’s Cabinet approved a new bill allowing the government to impose hefty fines on tech companies if they fail to remove fake news or other hateful content. Social networks will have 24 hours to delete certain “criminal” content and seven days to remove other types of criminal content.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet decided on rules that would lead to fines up to 50 million euros ($53.4 million) if Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites fail to comply.

Missing from reports of those hefty fines, has been any acknowledgement that the bill’s current loose definition of “social networks” could lead to other internet services like email platforms, private blogs, or forums falling under the regulatory regime.

According to the approved bill currently pending a Parliamentary vote, a “social network” could mean almost any site that has more than 2 million users. It doesn’t differentiate between occasional visitors to a site and “registered users”.

The more insidious component of the bill is that it amends an existing German law that makes it difficult to obtain someone’s personal information—virtually ending anonymity on the Internet.

The bill makes it possible for anyone to ask a social media network to provide personal information, including address, of any social network user without having a judge adjudicate the request. No court or prosecutor’s office would be supervising such requests.

Privacy groups in Germany have voiced their corners about the potential chilling effect on free speech and the threat to whistleblowers. Others have also noted that giving people access to persoanl information could lead to other forms of criminal activity, potentially causing a real life threat.

Prio to parliamentary consideration, Merkel’s cabinet made cosmetic changes to the original bill before approving it on Wednesday, adding a note in the bill’s description that a judge must be involved in any requests for personal information. But, as it was explained to Heat Street, no such provision is stipulated in the text of the law.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas claimed the new bill wouldn’t infringe freedom of speech and would only apply when criminal hatred or intentionally false news is posted. Government authorities also assume there will be only 300 cases a year of people requesting other’s personal details. Only?