The Solicitor General for England and Wales, Robert Buckland, has claimed that Google may be in breach of the Terrorism Act for failing to take down material from proscribed extremist organizations.
The MP for South Swindon told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the internet giant should face criminal prosecution if it doesn’t remove videos from YouTube uploaded by proscribed extremist groups, such as National Action, the white-nationalist group that was put on the proscribed list in December of last year:
There is an offence of recklessly disseminating this material, and the criminal law is there is a clear boundary beyond which they should not stray. I think the legislation is clear. It is my hope and expectation that these organisations will indeed come to heel and obey the law but the law is there if necessary… it would be wrong of me to come to a firm conclusion without more information. But I hope I have made the point as clear as I can.
Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the committee, said that it “defied belief” that content by National Action was still viewable on the video-sharing site:
The Government banned National Action to stop them recruiting people to terrorist activity. Yet despite repeated complaints to Google, National Action’s illegal recruitment videos are still available on YouTube. We heard from the Minister that the Government asked YouTube to remove National Action videos — yet it appears that Google have completely ignored those requests. If this is true, then it seems that one of the richest companies on the planet is aiding and abetting illegal terrorist recruitment activity, and Ministers need to tell us what action they plan to take.
These comments come during a tough week for Google. Last Tuesday, executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter were called to the Home Affairs Select Committee. Chuka Umunna MP accused Peter Barron, the Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at Google Europe, of profiting off those same extremist videos that have them in trouble now, along with allowing the individuals themselves to make money as well. Barron responded by arguing that the profits they made from these videos were “very small amounts,” also saying that they would crack down on them.
This was not enough to stop a subsequent advertising boycott by the UK government, along with private entities such as McDonald’s UK, Audi UK, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Tesco, and M&S. “Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content,” a government spokesman said. “We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way.”
Matt Brittin, Google’s head for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, subsequently apologized at a conference, saying that he was sorry for anyone who was affected and that the company was speeding up a review to crack down on hate speech.
Home Office Minister Sarah Newton claimed that this apology only arose after representatives from Google were “read the riot act” at a Whitehall summit last week. Newton said that the government was not “leaving anything off the table” in order to force companies to remove material they deemed hateful, revealing that ministers were “very carefully” studying a German draft law that proposes fines of £40 million for companies that do not take material down within a 24 hour deadline of being ordered to.