Google said on Tuesday that it is taking legal action against an expanded version of the German hate speech law that came into effect recently, saying its terms violate users’ privacy rights.

The Alphabet department, which runs the video-sharing website YouTube, filed a lawsuit with the Cologne Administrative Court, challenging a rule that allows user data to be passed to law enforcement before any criminal conduct is clear.

Fearing that hostile remarks and influence actions through social media might undermine the country’s usually calm election politics, the request for judicial review comes as Germany is preparing to hold a general election in September.

Sabine Frank, the regional director of YouTube’s public policy, wrote in a blog post: “In our view, this large-scale intervention in user rights is not only in conflict with data protection, but also with the German Constitution and European laws conflict.”

Germany enacted an anti-hate speech law in early 2018, called NetzDG in German, making online social networks YouTube, Facebook and Twitter responsible for monitoring and deleting toxic content.

The law also requires social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, but it has been widely criticized as invalid. Parliament passed legislation in May to strengthen and expand its scope of application.

Google pays particular attention to a requirement in the expanded NetzDG that requires providers to pass on the personal details of people who share suspected hate content to law enforcement agencies.

It believes that only after law enforcement agencies have personal information can they foresee the decision whether to initiate a criminal case, which means that the data of innocent people may eventually enter the criminal database without their knowledge.

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A Google spokesperson said: “Internet providers such as YouTube now need to automatically transmit user data in batches to law enforcement agencies based on suspected criminal offences without any legal order and the user’s knowledge.”

“This damages basic rights, so we decided to let the competent administrative court in Cologne conduct judicial review of NetzDG’s relevant regulations.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021