Archive: Dec 2016

ETIAS Legislation

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Security in Europe goes to the heart of the Union and it is more important than ever before. Recent events need a unified response to terror threats. Terrorists don’t respect national borders. This is why President Juncker created a new Security Union portfolio in August 2016. This has resulted in many major security initiatives. Some have recently come to fruition, and some are still in progress.

ETIAS

Prevention is better than cure. Systematic checks before people reach borders is essential to prevent terrorists entering the EU.  On 16 November the Commission established a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). This comprehensive security initiative is ETIAS’s equivalent to the US ESTA scheme. This strengthens security checks on visa-free travellers. The system will conduct prior checks and either issue or refuse travel authorisation.

National border guards will always take the final decision to grant or refuse entry. But the extra information will help. Third-country nationals are already subject to systematic document and security checks. But it’s not just entry which is important. They will introduce checks on people leaving the Schengen area too.

The various databases will be crucial in the fight against terrorism. This includes the Schengen Information System (SIS), the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database (SLTD), relevant national systems and Interpol databases. The balance between privacy and security is delicate. All checks will respect data protection rules and the EU’s legislation on fundamental rights.

The legislative process for ETIAS is almost complete. The speed of this legislation is in response to last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The European Parliament recently agreed to the Commission’s proposal to introduce mandatory border checks for all. The Commission expects a prompt adoption of the proposal into legislation.

European Border and Coast Guard

Checks and documentation are important but extra personnel is essential. The recently created European Border and Coast Guard Agency will provide practical help. Through Frontex, they will be able to deploy as many as 1500 EU border guards at short notice to assist member states.

Frontex is a specialist rapid reaction pool. It includes border surveillance officers, registration and finger scanning experts, and nationality screening experts. To function, this expert group of personnel will needs appropriate equipment. Member states have agreed to supply the necessary technology, including vehicles, vessels and aircraft.

The rapid reaction pool will be an addition to the regular deployment of officers in Frontex operations at EU’s external borders. We don’t want emergency situations at EU external borders, but preparation is crucial.

Other legislation and initiatives

The latest Security Union progress report listed other European Parliament legislative priorities for 2016-2017. They need to reach agreement on other security focused Commission proposals. This includes the Directive on Combatting Terrorism, and the Firearms Directive. In December, the Commission presents the final package about money laundering and terrorist financing.

We need to stop people from getting involved in violent extremism in the first place. The security of Europe relies on protecting young people from radicalisation. The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) was set up to encourage young people to get involved in prevention work. The EU Internet Forum explored ways to prevent online radicalisation and internet terrorist propaganda.

Security

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Information screening such as ETIAS and ESTA are essential for the safety of international borders. The European Agenda on Security are overseeing online security as well as implementing new border controls. Their focus is on cyber-crime and terrorism cyber-crime. This is where unified cross-border initiatives can be effective in policing and prevention.

One of these initiatives is the EU Internet Forum. It represents one of the key security commitments announced by the Commission in April 2015. Their discussions will look at ways to protect the public from terrorist propaganda. It will also ensure that potential communications between terrorists are monitored and shut down. There will also be conversations about how to use the internet to challenge hate speech and radicalisation.

The forum brings together many high profile public and private entities. For instance, EU Interior Ministers, Europol, the EU Counter Terrorism Co-ordinator and the European Parliament. Getting the big tech companies onside is crucial. Given that both the solution and the problem are online, the forum will be reliant on the co-operation of web giants.

Representatives from Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and YouTube recently attended the latest EU Internet Forum. They took this opportunity to announce plans to delete extremist content. They have agreed to create a shared industry database of digital fingerprints, called ‘hashes’. So when one platform identifies terrorist imagery, they can alert others. They can then review the content and decide whether it contravenes their own content policies. They hope that other social media platforms will get involved.

In fairness, the extreme images violate all providers’ policies. But it is the philosophy of corporations collaborating with member states that is new. Authorities have had protracted battles with tech companies. As private concerns, they are obliged to abide by relevant national laws. But they have been under pressure about privacy, advertising, taxation, and competition. These companies are vast in scope and influence so I wonder what else is under discussion.

Governments have a duty to protect citizens from terrorist activities. But they have to balance users’ freedom of expression. Facebook and others were swift to reassure their users that they will share no identifiable information. They say they are committed to protecting users’ privacy and their ability to express themselves.

The forum is aware of the importance of citizens’ freedoms. As they point out, tackling online hate speech is a delicate exercise. It requires somebody to define where freedom of expression stops and where hate speech starts. It matters who this ‘somebody’ is. A legislature will have differing views from Facebook, the general population, or a ‘freedom fighter’.

The focus is currently on terrorism. Some commentators have expressed concerns that if governments can exert pressure on this, what else is next? Intellectual property or health information are both areas of contention. These companies hold vast amounts of information which governments might want to see. In the meantime it is reassuring we can use online data to protect innocent citizens. We need to prevent atrocities such that we have seen in France and other parts of Europe.