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Freedom of speech 'safe' as Europe tackles the terror web

Crackdown on 'virtual training camps'

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The EU has unveiled a further crack-down on 'Internet terrorism', intended to tackle what it claims is the increasing exploitation of the web by terrorists. It is being used, says the Commission, as a "virtual training camp", to spread propaganda and act as a recruitment tool, and to provide online manuals and bomb construction guides.

Terrorists "use the Internet as a means of dissemination of propaganda aiming at mobilisation and recruitment as well as instructions and online manuals intended for training or planning of attacks... [this] complements and enhances off-line indoctrination and training and contributes to the development of a stronger and wider platform of terrorist activists and supporters."

The new provisions are put forward as amendments to the EU's 2002 Framework Decision on combating terrorism, creating three new offences of recruitment and training for terrorism, and public provocation to commit a terrorist offence.

Provocation is the blurriest of them, and is defined as meaning "the distribution, or otherwise making available, of a message to the public, with the intent to incite" any of a series of terrorist offences. And there's a recursion in there that will have significant implications for the Internet, because the amendment also requires member states to outlaw a series of terrorist activities, including "public provocation to commit a terrorist offence."

Might we take that as covering linking? It certainly leaves scope for broad interpretation and a wide catchment, and the Commission has felt it necessary to specify that the measures may not be used to restrict the spread of information for scientific, academic or reporting purposes. States must also enact legislation covering aggravated theft, extortion or drawing up of false administrative documents "with a view to committing one of the [listed terrorist offences]". That allows the terror offences net to be widened to cover credit card theft/fraud and passport offences; it's worth noting that these are categories of charge frequently employed in the UK against people who were first arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The proposals do not include any measures to filter the web to shield Europe from dangerous documents, and although: "Forbidding internet service providers to give access to material aiming at public provocation to commit terrorist offences, recruitment or training for terrorism" was considered, this was rejected as an immediately viable option.

The Commission tells us that: "Particularly, the restrictions imposed to the freedom of expression by the new offence of publication to commit a terrorist offence are in line with Article 10 of the ECHR" (European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights tells us: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.... The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."

You decide. The English version of the Commission proposal also tells us: "The threat is international, and so must be at least part of the answer." You know what they mean, but also, you know what it means. ®

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