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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Europe Doubles Down on Online Terrorist Content

European politicians and law enforcement have called for unity and a robust response to terror attacks, in parallel with additional efforts promoting fundamental freedoms and integration.

In a plenary debate with European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, who announced upcoming EU initiatives such as strengthening Europol’s mandate and an action plan on integration and inclusion, politicians across Europe pointed to the need to further close the gaps and loopholes in existing counterterrorism legislation and in its implementation. At the same time, measures promoting integration into society, education and non-discrimination should be further developed and supported, they said.

Several members of the European Parliament referred to the need to urgently tackle online aspects of radicalization and hate speech. Some called for inter-institutional negotiations on legislation that would require terrorist content to be removed from the internet to be concluded immediately, whereas others considered it equally important to reach a balanced outcome, protecting fundamental rights and freedom of expression.

A follow-up debate also discussed automated exchanges of information from DNA databases, fingerprints and car registration data, and the 2004 Advance Passenger Information (API) directive, which obliges carriers to collect passenger information.

Following these debates, on November 23, the EU Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) hosted its second tabletop exercise in a virtual event held under the umbrella of the European Commission-led EU Internet Forum.

The aim of the exercise was to test an EU-led voluntary mechanism to enable a coordinated response to a cross-border massive abuse of the internet in the context of terrorism or violent extremism. The EU IRU’s initial tabletop exercise, held in September 2019, was the first of its kind since the launch of the Christchurch Call to Action and led towards closer cooperation between parties involved in advancing the fight against terrorism online. 

Recent acts of terrorism in France and Austria in October-November 2020, have further demonstrated the importance of disrupting the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist propaganda during, and in the aftermath of, terrorist attacks. 

The tabletop exercise formed part of a larger consultation process, through which the EU IRU and European countries are improving their operational response to the dissemination of propaganda linked to acts of terrorism.  The exercise reconfirmed the need for real-time coordination and engagement between countries and online service providers in order to support investigations while also containing potentially viral content in light of major terrorist incidents. 

The exercise was attended by EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain,), third countries (Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom) and the European Commission. 

The EU IRU will expand the 2021 tabletop exercise to include a wider range of participants, including online service providers.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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