NCC's Draft Legislation Criticized for Cyber-Censorship, Clamping Free Speech
Summary Report by Taiwan Weekly
To combat fake news on the Internet, the National Communication Committee (NCC) announced on June 29 the draft of “Digital Intermediary Services Act", the very first law that censors online services. It will censor all large-scale platforms, which include Facebook and YouTube that have more than 2.3 million active users. Any violators of the new Act may face a fine up to NT$10 million (about US$330,000). Netizens lament that the "Green Terror is coming." Opposition party legislators accused that the government is making a new law to clamp down freedom of speech on the Internet.
The draft "Digital Intermediary Services Act" was originally called the “Digital Communications Service Act”. The NCC said that in recent years, controversial contents, such as pirated contents and fake news on the internet, have increasingly affected society, and many countries have also formulated relevant laws and regulations to face the trend.
The NCC intends to formulate a mechanism for handling illegal contents. In case of pirated contents, fake news and other controversial contents, individuals or companies can file a report. After the relevant department in charge finds it illegal, the department can apply to the court for an “information restraint order,” requiring the violators to remove the illegal contents. Officials said that the NCC will not determine which content is illegal, and whether the content is illegal still has to go back to the actual competent department to make a determination. For example, the epidemic information may be managed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
According to the content of the draft, all relevant media practitioners must abide by eight categories of obligations, including information disclosure and transparency reporting. Any violators may face a penalty of fine up to NT$10 million (about US$335,000). NCC officials pointed out that the draft also plans to set up a legal person digital media consortium, as a coordination platform for online issue research and communication, and the government will donate NT$2.5 billion (about US$83.7 million) to set up such a consortium. The draft provisions will be announced on the NCC website for 60 days at the end of June. It is planned to hold three public briefings and one public hearing in July and August, and then send them to the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan to complete the legislative process.
Legislator Lai Shi-pao of the Kuomintang (KMT) stated that nominally, the NCC is an independent agency, but it is actually an affiliated organization of the government. The launch of the "Digital Intermediary Services Act" is to extend the government's hand into the cyber-world, just like the practice of the communist countries. Legislator Lai reminded that, as everyone knows, the government often releases incorrect false information. However, it does not regulate the government but only regulates the people unilaterally. According to the draft legislation, the definition of false information, which is in the hand of the government, would further create an unbalanced relationship between the government and the people. Once the bad Act is passed and enacted, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) friendly cyber-army will become more rampant, hunting witches everywhere, reporting all remarks that are unfavorable to the ruling party, and be paid by the piece as a daily routine. Legislator Hung Mong-kai of the KMT indicated that the international community has required social platforms to have a strict reporting mechanism for untrue content. The Tsai Administration intends to create an administrative department to censor online contents, making it clear that it wants to clamp down freedom of speech on the internet.
Legislator Kao Hung-an of the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) stated that there have been repeated incidents of alleged cyber-army and counterfeit accounts on the internet. She believes that it is necessary to strictly formulate the criteria for identifying false information and fake accounts, otherwise the red line of freedom of speech will be trampled. Legislator Tsai Pi-ru, also from the TPP, criticized that the NCC’s attempt to spend NT$2.5 billion to set up a "legal person consortium" as a specialized agency dealing with false information, is not only to avoid the supervision of the Legislative Yuan, but also to waste taxpayers’ money to set up an extra agency with public authority. “It is very dangerous." Legislator Chiu Cheng-yuan of the TPP questioned whether the establishment of a consortium by the NCC to manage false information on the internet is to establish the "Ministry of Internet Truth?" He believes that cultivating people to make judgments through common sense and rational thinking is the best way to decipher false information.
Summing up the criticisms on the internet, there are mainly the following two categories: "The biggest fake news source, ironically, said that they want to crack down on fake news", "Strongly suppressing opposition voices, the ruling party is no longer what they used to be proud of, the Democratic Progressive Party, but the Democratic ‘Regressive’ Party." These two kinds of comments indicate that the ruling party has used double standards for verifying fake news and often used the "Social Order Maintenance Act" to suppress freedom of speech. The draft "Digital Intermediary Services Act" foreshadows that the "Green Terror is coming!"