Austria Policies Affecting Disinformation

From ADTAC Disinformation Inventory

Austrians enjoy a high degree of Internet freedoms, net neutrality and protected personal rights online. It ranks 17th on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.[1]

In December 2020, the Federal Council passed the "Hass im Netz (Hate on the Net)" legislative package, which aims to address hate speech and discrimination on communication platforms with more than 100,000 users and €500,000 in revenue. According to this law, insults, defamation, incitement, threats and harassment must be removed from the respective platforms within 24 hours. In addition, it establishes an effective complaint procedure for affected users and measures to facilitate the investigation of users who post hateful messages. Another key component of the new legislative package is the the inclusion of “Upskirting" – secretly photographing or filming under a person's skirt or cleavage and publishing it online.

The law came into force on April 1, 2021. At the same time, Facebook adapted its reporting function to the Austrian law. Since then, Facebook or Instagram users can report a post as illegal under the new law.

Epicenter.Works criticizes the new law as it makes it legal that "employers will be able to sue for personal rights on behalf of their employees, even without their consent, if the underlying statements/postings are likely to significantly damage the reputation of the employer. [..] The employee does not have the option of preventing the employer from suing for his or her personal rights."[2]

Das Telekommunikationsgesetz (Telecommunications Act) of 2003 provides that the responsible ministry may "suspend the operation of telecommunications facilities, in whole or in part, or for certain types of facilities, for a definite or indefinite period of time, in order to maintain public peace, security and order."[3]

In addition, certain services may also be restricted. This became known shortly after the outbreak of the Corona pandemic in March. At that time, Rundfunk und Telekom Regulierungs-GmbH (RTR) addressed a letter to telecommunications providers and, in the event of imminent network congestion, allowed operators to override network neutrality, which was first introduced in 2016. Specifically, certain data packages, such as streaming services like Netflix, could have a lower priority, which would mean that they would only be transmitted at a decreased speed, while other applications would have priority