Today, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, accompanied by the Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Mr Carmelo Abela representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and the Estonian Minister of the Interior, Mr Andres Anvelt, representing the incoming Presidency of the Council of the EU, as well as the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Mr Gilles de Kerchove, are meeting key internet companies in the United States, in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The visit was organised to follow up on the second meeting of the EU Internet Forum in December 2016 and to take forward actions agreed for 2017.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said: "Over the last 18 months, we have managed to build a relationship of trust and mutual understanding with the major internet companies. I am pleased with the progress we are making. I welcome the voluntary initiative of the industry to set up a mechanism to remove terrorist content from the internet. Today, a prototype of this mechanism is in action. The voluntary partnership with the internet industry is making a difference. I welcome also the commitment of the internet industry to contribute to the EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme, which will empower civil society to pass positive narratives on the internet. We will also have a fruitful exchange of views with the companies on issues related to cyber-security and encryption, and the access of law enforcement to electronic evidence in the context of criminal investigations. Our presence here in the US underlines our strong willingness to continue this relationship in the future."
Carmelo Abela, Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Andres Anvelt, Estonian Minister of the Interior, representing the incoming Presidency of the Council of the EU, said: "The fight against terrorism poses ever increasing challenges in the context of a globalised and changing world particularly in the light of the current geopolitical picture. However, on-going cooperation between governments and the private sector can significantly hinder the online activity of terrorist groups. What we are doing today is to enhance that cooperation for the benefit of our societies. This is the result of a number of good initiatives by the EU Internet forum such as consistent removal of online content by implementing modern mechanisms to detect abusive content and the launch of the Civil Society Empowerment Programme. We now need to ensure that we build on this progress and continue our cooperation with more companies."
Monika Bickert, Head of Global Product Policy for Facebook said: “We're pleased to have worked with others in the tech industry to create a working prototype of a shared database for hashes of violent terrorist imagery that we have removed from our services. There's no place for terrorism on Facebook, and we remove terrorist content and accounts as soon as we become aware of it. We also offer strong support for initiatives that counter extremism – including commissioning research, training NGOs, and supporting programs that engage in the promotion of positive narratives. We believe this is the most effective way to tackle online extremism.”
Juniper Downs, head of policy at YouTube said: "We work hard to take swift action against terrorist content through enforcement of YouTube's policies, and by investing in new solutions like the industry hash database. We support and encourage collaboration between tech platforms in order to strengthen our collective response to the spread of terrorist content online."
Sinéad McSweeney, VP of Public Policy, Twitter EMEA, said: "We prohibit violent threats and the promotion of terrorism. Our specialist teams have developed an innovative approach, employing a hybrid technical and reporting model that works for Twitter first. The result has been a movement of terrorist content off the platform. We have also significantly expanded our CVE partnerships globally, training hundreds of NGOs and issuing pro-bono advertising grants to support the amplification of alternative narratives to extremism We look forward to continuing this vital work in partnership with our peers across the industry."
Since the launch of the EU Internet Forum in December 2015, concrete steps have been taken to stop the abuse of the internet by international terrorist groups, with measurable outcomes. Approximately 90% of content referred to the internet companies by Europol has been removed. However, while terrorist content by some terrorist groups is on the decline, other violent extremist groups are seeking to increase their online presence. Tackling this challenge, while protecting the Union's fundamental values of freedom of speech, remains at the forefront of our EU counter terrorism efforts. The European Commission, EU Home Affairs Ministers and the internet industry work together in a voluntary partnership under the umbrella of the EU Internet Forum to tackle this complex challenge and to protect EU citizens. Working with the smaller companies is also a central objective, to prevent the abuse of their platforms.
The EU Internet Forum has two key objectives: to reduce accessibility to terrorist content online; and to empower civil society partners to increase the volume of effective alternative narratives online. These two objectives have materialised into: a referral mechanism with the participation of Europol to remove internet content; the creation of a prototype database of hashes developed by the internet industry to create a shared database to help identify potential terrorist content on social media and prevent its reappearance on other platforms; and the establishment of a Civil Society Empowerment Programme, which will be launched by the European Commission on 15 March 2017, with an initial financial endowment of EUR 10 million.
Areas of future work for the Internet Forum include access to electronic evidence, cybersecurity research, encryption and research on online radicalisation.