European Union
European Union

EU interior ministers were mulling steps Thursday to clamp down on terrorism, focusing among other things on the internet and better monitoring at the bloc’s external borders, in the wake of this month’s deadly attacks in Paris and a foiled threat in Belgium.

European Union
European Union

“We are determined … to take another step forward for the security of Europe’s citizens,” said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, ahead of talks in Riga with his 27 EU counterparts.

“The question is not if something going to happen, but the question is when and where,” added his Belgian counterpart Jan Jambon.

The debate has focused in particular on foreign fighters – Europeans who join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq and are seen as a security threat once they return. The internet poses a particular risk, as both a source of radicalization and a communication channel.

One move being considered is to beef up measures at the European level to monitor internet content and flag items for deletion if they breach the code of conduct agreed by companies such as Google or Twitter.

This would be a “major progress,” said EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Giles de Kerchove. He has proposed that the European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol could take on the task, following a British initiative.

De Kerchove also pointed out that advances in encryption technology are making it harder for police and intelligence services to “intercept communications between crooks [and] terrorists.”

He also stressed, however, that the the internet can play a positive role by providing a “counternarrative” to extremism.

Thursday’s discussions will feed into a debate among EU leaders on counterterrorism at their next summit, on February 12.

Another focus has been the question of improving the monitoring of people travelling in and out of the European Union.

While more can be done within the rules of the EU’s border-free Schengen zone, ministers were mulling whether to change the Schengen code to allow more rigorous checks of EU citizens when they enter and leave the bloc.

Member states have also resumed efforts to set up a contentious EU programme to collect and share information on airline passengers, after the scheme was blocked last year by EU lawmakers.

“We know that the parliament had issues,” De Maizere said. “I know also that a compromise must be reached, but the topic itself is pressing and we are urging for a conclusion.”

Airlines based in the EU already share Passenger Name Record (PNR) information – which includes names, addresses and credit card numbers – with security forces in Australia, Canada and the United States.

According to a revised European Commission proposal, such data could be held in a depersonalized format for up to five years.

But EU lawmakers criticized the proposal, details of which were leaked this week, arguing among other things that it runs counter to an EU court decision last year on the retention of personal data.

Other measures being discussed Thursday include how to improve information sharing among EU intelligence agencies. Many of the perpetrators in recent attacks, including those in Paris, were already known to police.



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