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Interview with Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland on combatting cybercrime, hate speech and fake news

Translation from dpa News Agency , 

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe has cautioned governments over state measures to combat fake news. “We should be careful with content which is not evidently illegal” said Thorbjørn Jagland to German Press Agency dpa. “This can lead to a kind of censorship and be used in the wrong way.” Jagland fears politicians might declare undesirable opinions as “fake news” in order to stifle or end debate.  

However, Jagland said Facebook’s latest initiative to check and flag content reported and contested by users was a positive step.

“But we have to be careful, since this is about freedom of speech,” Jagland said.

The Council of Europe is examining whether new legal standards are necessary in addition to voluntary measures taken by Internet companies. Jagland underlined a clear distinction needed to be made between lies and false information, on the one hand, and clearly unlawful content on the other. The latter, he said, needed a different approach. Incitement to violence, racism, Holocaust denial and child pornography were illegal; Internet providers and social networks had an obligation to take such content down, he said.

Jagland also raised the issue of Internet hacking, saying “this is the greatest threat”. The Council of Europe is currently updating the Cybercrime Convention to allow security services to access data stored on servers [and in the Cloud]. The President of Germany's Constitutional Protection Agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, recently made similar proposals following concerns over hacking during the US election campaign and ahead of parliamentary elections in Germany.

The Cybercrime Convention applies in many European states and the USA. Russia, a member of the Council of Europe, has not signed the Convention.