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Christchurch Call rushed, generalities says international digital rights advocate

The Christchurch Call document designed to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online shows signs of being rushed and speaks in a lot of generalities, according to the director of an international digital rights group.

Seventeen countries and major tech firms signed up to the Christchurch Call at a summit in Paris last week initiated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and co-chaired by her and French President Emmanuel Macron, following the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15.

The summit was an attempt to end the ability to use social media to organise and promote terrorism and violent extremism. World leaders and tech companies pledged to "eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online".

Danny O'Brien, international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non profit group defending civil liberties in the digital world, has told TVNZ1's Q+A programme his organisation has concerns about the Christchurch Call.

"I think our concern about any call like this is whether it's really thought about the downsides of controlling speech on the internet, as well as the potential benefits of restricting speech that we don't like," Mr O'Brien said in an interview airing on tonight's programme.

"It was a very sudden call. Many of the experts that you might expect to be involved in a document like this were taken by surprise by the announcement," he said, speaking from San Francisco. 

"And I think that while it could have been a lot worse, it certainly shows the signs of being a little bit rushed."

Asked what those signs are, Mr O'Brien said: "I think it speaks a lot in generalities. And I think that might be exactly why so many of the tech companies joined in, because for them a document that doesn't speak about specifics is probably useful for their argument that they're doing something, but not necessarily something that anybody else has spelled out to them." 

He said: "And the other issue I think is that there's a lot of vagaries around how the internet actually works.

"I think a lot of people, when they realise the amount of information that passes across the internet and the real difficulty of being able to control that in a centralised way, leaps at sort of insisting that it shouldn't happen happen at all."

Mr O'Brien said if you want to place controls and regulate speech online, "it's not only hard to work out what speech you should control, it's very hard to work out how you might actually do that in real life".

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Danny O’Brien is an activist for online free speech and privacy based in San Franscisco. Source: Q+A

* Q+A is on TVNZ1 on Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.

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Danny O'Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the document on extremist content online took many experts by surprise. Source: Q+A