EFF and 66 human rights and free speech advocacy groups across the globe today called on EU Internal Commissioner Thierry Breton to clarify that the Digital Services Act (DSA)—new regulations aimed at reining in Big Tech companies that control the lion’s share of online speech worldwide—does not allow internet shutdowns to be used as a weapon to punish platforms for not removing “hateful content.”

Arbitrary blocking of online platforms for not following procedural safeguards to take down hate speech violates human rights under international law, the groups said in a letter to Breton asking him to clarify comments he made in a July 10 interview.  Platforms will be required to remove hateful content “immediately” or they will face “immediate sanctions” and be banned from operating “on our territory,” Breton said. The DSA imposes new legal requirements on TikTok, Instagram, and other very large social media platforms effective July 25.

In his comments on a radio station about recent riots in France, Breton, a former French minister, brought up the potential of restricting social media platforms under the DSA amidst existing civil turmoil in the nation.

Arbitrary blocking of online platforms and other forms of internet shutdowns are never a proportionate measure and impose disastrous consequences for people’s safety and worsen the spread of misinformation, EFF and its international partners said in the letter.

With non-EU countries embracing DSA-like regulations, Breton’s comments, without the requested clarification, threaten to reinforce the weaponization of internet shutdowns around the world, and give cover to governments using arbitrary blocking to shroud violence and serious human rights abuse.

In the letter, civil society groups articulated the importance of a human-rights friendly implementation of the DSA. However, a recent French draft law on the regulation of the digital space requires browser-based website blocking, which is an unprecedented government censorship tool.

The letter is here.