The Administrative Court in Cologne Tuesday ruled that key provisions of the amended Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), aimed at curbing online hate speech, violate European Union law on civil liberties. The ruling delivered a partial victory to Google and Meta that had challenged the new law in February last year.
The new provision §3a requires social media platforms with more than 2 million users to delete illegal material relating to specific criminal offenses such as threats of murder, incitement of terrorist attacks, child pornography, and extremist propaganda. Social media platforms are also required to flag content to the Office of the Federal Criminal Police (BKA) along with specific user information.
Google and Meta’s Ireland subsidiaries made urgent applications for temporary legal protection and challenged the new provisions of NetzDG for violating European Union law and Germany’s national constitutional law.
The court founds that the law violates the country of origin principle enshrined under the Directive on Electronic Commerce, according to which the legal requirements for a provider of electronic services are based on the law of the EU member state in which they are located. The German legislature cannot claim the exceptions to this principle since neither did it carry out the required consultation and information procedure nor fulfill the requirements for an emergency procedure.
Similar applications by Tiktok and Twitter are pending before the Cologne Administrative Court. The court’s decision is effective only between the parties to the proceedings. Any appeal would be decided by the Muenster Higher Administrative Court.