Chicago Journal of International Law

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This Comment explores the conflict between state-described freedom of expression and the autonomy of social media companies to regulate content on their platforms through the lens of the Network Enforcement Act, passed by Germany in 2017, and the freedom of expression clause of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Network Enforcement Act, which compels social media companies to monitor and remove content from their sites which violate certain other provisions of German law, has thrust the issues of intermediary autonomy and censorship-byproxy into the spotlight. Proponents of the law support it as a way to ensure that what is illegal offline remains illegal online. Opponents argue that the law essentially amounts to censorship, and therefore violates freedom of expression under the German constitution and a host of international treaties. This Comment finds that while the law likely does not violate freedom of expression as enumerated under Article 5 of the Basic Laws of the Republic of Germany, it may violate freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, in part because the law incentivizes “overblocking” which could lead to the removal of lawful speech without due process. In order to promulgate such regulations, more than one country needs to band together in order to promote safety and international security without curtailing civil rights.

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