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We will defeat terrorism by uniting digitally

Submitted by on 09 Nov 2017 – 16:28

As extremists are increasingly using the internet to radicalise the vulnerable and marginalised with their poisonous ideology, Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Estonia, Andres Anvelt discusses current measures to tackle online radicalisation in Europe and calls on the civil society partners to do more to tackle extremist material online

On Thursday 17th August, a man drove a bus into a busy tourist area in Barcelona, killing 14 people and hurting at least 130 people. The next day another man attacked people with a knife in Turku, Finland, killing two. These are just a few examples from the last few weeks among dozens of horrible terrorist attacks in recent years in Europe.

In fact, the last two years are likely to go down in recent European history as one of the most tragic periods of the decade. There were 22 successful and 30 foiled terror attacks in seven European countries, just in the last year. Most were claimed by Daesh but at least two were directed against Muslims.

Every time such senseless violence occurs, people ask – how do we prevent those attacks and should we close our borders? First of all, most of those attacks in Europe were conducted by our own citizens and have got nothing to do with migration. Therefore, I say we should do quite the opposite – instead of isolating ourselves into 28 separate European countries, we should stand now more firmly than ever as one European Union and work together to establish one transparent information space for our law enforcement authorities. As the holder of the Presidency of the European Council, we have made interoperability of IT systems a top priority in safeguarding our border and internal security.

Let me state clearly that bringing necessary information together through interoperability does not mean creating a new database or a super-database but making good use of the ones which already exist. Freedom of movement is one of our most valuable rights in the European Union and we have to put every effort into maintaining this right. However, without modern IT solutions, it would be increasingly difficult to maintain the Schengen Area that enables around 500 million Europeans to travel without internal border controls between most parts of the European continent.

This summer, we made a huge step forward when we reached political agreement to establish an Entry-Exit Information System to register entry, exit and refusal of entry information of third country nationals that cross the external borders of the Schengen area.

I hope that it will be operational as early as 2020, and we also hope to have the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) to be in place shortly after. That will provide the member states in the Schengen area information about visa-free travellers before they embark and enter the EU. However, these are just a few examples of vital databases.

Data protection is another fear that people have regarding interoperability. Let me assure you that modern information technology is the best means of upholding the highest principles of data protection as enshrined by the European Union Charter for Fundamental Rights. Imagine if all our data were stored on paper in a cabinet locked away in a vault.

Perhaps we would have cameras set around the vault, but then we would only know who had access to our data but not what exactly they saw. With a well secured and closely supervised databases you will always have a record of who is searching for information and what that information is.

It is the ambition of the Estonian EU Council Presidency to make the maximum use of the various information systems to create a safer and more secure European Union. We will continue our work to make existing and future information systems exchange data smoothly by 2020. Data protection and safeguards on fundamental rights are the most important guiding principles for us in this regard.

Another important issue is to have a good gatekeeper and developer for our data and IT systems. The EU information systems in the field of Justice and Home Affairs are developed and managed by the EU Agency eu-LISA.

The Estonian EU Council Presidency strives to make eu-LISA fit for all important challenges in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. Thus, we will lead negotiations between the EU member states to agree on a renewed mandate for the agency.

For our information systems to have the best possible impact on the EU’s internal security, in the mid-term perspective, eu-LISA should manage all relevant information systems, covering other areas important for internal security, such as customs.

This is an idea that the Estonian EU Council Presidency will promote along with other important measures, such as strengthening external border checks, obtaining efficient control of weapons and explosives, guaranteeing early detection and warning of radicalization and supporting more confident inter-agency cooperation with effectual information exchange in Europe.

Let’s make Europe more united and our lives safer by using digital databases on an EU level. Taking all these ambitious cooperative initiatives on board, the European Union must unite in its digital development, and return to the roots of the Union, but in 21st Century’s way