Austria wants legislation that links real names to online statements

The Austrian government wants legislation requiring online platforms to know the identities of their users. For example, online statements should be linked to a person, which makes prosecution easier. The bill has been criticized domestically.

During a press conference, Media Minister Gernot Blümel expressed his opinion that the laws that apply in ‘real life’ also apply online, making it necessary to identify online users. In 2020, the Austrian government therefore wants to ensure that it is no longer possible to respond completely anonymously on major online platforms. Users are still allowed to use a pseudonym, but the platform must know who is hiding behind the nickname.

The platforms are also given the responsibility to verify themselves who the users are. Websites are free to determine how they identify users, but one possibility would be requiring a phone number. China has taken similar steps to recover online identities.

In order to prevent the proposed Austrian law from conflicting with applicable European legislation, the European Commission is asked to look at the draft text. In its own country, the proposal is criticized by privacy advocates and the opposition, because it can lead to censorship, among other things, the Austrian website Der Standard reports.

The law would apply to online platforms that have more than 100,000 registered users and have more than 500,000 euros in annual turnover. Websites that receive more than 50,000 euros in annual government subsidies must also comply with the law. Such websites must request the full name and address details of the user. They must also appoint a contact person who can be reached to hand over user information to the authorities if requested. Anyone who refuses to cooperate can be fined up to 500,000 euros, rising to one million for repeated violations.