New EU rules restricting access to explosive precursors start applying throughout the EU. The rules contain stronger safeguards and controls on the sale and marketing of dangerous chemicals, which have been misused to produce homemade explosives in a number of terrorist attacks in Europe. Under the new rules, suspicious transactions - whether online or offline - should be reported, including by online marketplaces. Sellers have to verify their customers' identity and their need for buying a restricted substance.
Before issuing a licence for buying restricted substances, member states need to carry out security screening, including a criminal background check. The new rules also restrict two additional chemicals: sulphuric acid and ammonium nitrate. To assist member states and sellers implement the rules, the Commission presented Guidelines in June last year together with a monitoring programme intended to track the outputs, results and impact of the new Regulation. The Regulation strengthens and updates the existing rules on explosive precursors, and contributes to denying terrorists the means to act and protecting the security of Europeans, in line with the priorities set out in the Counter-Terrorism Agenda presented in December 2020.
When it comes to online extremism, Big Tech is still our main problem
Over the past two months, lawmakers in the UK and Europe have introduced a number of major new bills aimed at curbing the malicious role that Big Tech plays in the spread of extremist and terrorist content online, writes Counter Extremism Executive Director Project David Ibsen.
In this new legislative climate, social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, who for years have been complacent, if not deliberately negligent, in policing their platforms, are finally beginning to come under pressure. Unsurprisingly, their belated efforts to appease governments through self-regulatory initiatives such as Digital Trust and Safety Partnership are already giving way to a search for scapegoats.
Lately, Big Tech advocates have begun to promote the idea that extremist and terrorist content online remains an issue solely for smaller social media sites and alternative encrypted platforms. While tackling extremism and terrorism on smaller and alternative sites is certainly worth getting ahead of, the overall narrative here is more than a little convenient for Silicon Valley and flawed in a number of crucial respects.
The spread of extremist and terrorist material remains a big problem for Big Tech. In the first place, we are not yet anywhere near the promised land of a mainstream social media environment free of extremist messaging. Far from Big Tech leading the way in content moderation, a study of media responsibility published in February of this year found that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are being significantly outpaced by smaller platforms in their efforts to eliminate harmful posts.
In the same month, CEP researchers discovered an extensive cache of ISIS content on Facebook, including executions, exhortations to commit acts of violence, and combat footage, which had been completely ignored by moderators.
This week, with rates of antisemitic violence surging across the US and Europe, CEP has once again identified explicit neo-Nazi content across a host of mainstream platforms including YouTube, Facebook-owned Instagram, and Twitter.
Secondly, even in an imagined future where extremist communications take place primarily through decentralised platforms, extremist groups would still be reliant on some form of connection to mainstream outlets to grow their ideological support base and recruit new members.
Every story of radicalisation starts somewhere and regulating Big Tech is the greatest step we could possibly take to prevent ordinary citizens from being drawn down extremist rabbit holes.
And while dangerous and hateful content can flow more freely on unmoderated sites, extremists and terrorists still desire access to large, mainstream platforms. The near ubiquitous nature of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others offer extremists the ability to reach broader audiences—to either terrify or recruit as many people as possible. For instance, Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant, who took to live streaming his atrocities on Facebook Live, had his attack video re-uploaded more than 1.5 million times.
Whether it’s jihadists seeking to ignite a worldwide caliphate or neo-Nazis trying to start a race war, the goal of terrorism today is to capture attention, inspire like-minded extremists, and destabilise societies to the greatest extent possible.
To this end, the amplificatory effects of major social media channels simply cannot be underestimated. It is one thing for an extremist to communicate to a small group of ideological cohorts on an obscure encrypted network. It is something entirely different for them to share their propaganda with hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
It would be no exaggeration to say that preventing the latter from happening through effective regulation of Big Tech would help to fundamentally tackle modern terrorism and prevent extremists and terrorists from attaining a mainstream audience.
The increasing decentralisation of online extremism is an important issue that lawmakers must deal with, but anyone who brings it up to try and obscure the importance of regulating Big Tech simply does not have the public’s best interest at heart.
David Ibsen serves as executive director for the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), which works to combat the growing threat of extremist ideology particularly by exposing extremists’ misuse of financial, business, and communications networks. CEP uses the latest communications and technological tools to identify and counter extremist ideology and recruitment online.
Security Union: EU rules on removing terrorist content online enter into force
Landmark EU rules on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online entered into force on 7 June. Platforms will have to remove terrorist content referred by member states' authorities within one hour. The rules will also help to counter the spread of extremist ideologies online - a vital part of preventing attacks and addressing radicalization. The rules include strong safeguards to ensure the full respect of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and information. The Regulation will also set transparency obligations for online platforms and for national authorities to report on the amount of terrorist content removed, the measures used to identify and remove content, the outcomes of complaints and appeals, as well as the number and type of penalties imposed on online platforms.
Member States will be able to sanction non-compliance and to decide on the level of penalties, which will be proportionate to the nature of the infringement. The size of the platform will also be taken into consideration, so as to not impose unduly high penalties relative to the platform's size. Member states and online platforms offering services in the EU now have one year to adapt their processes.
The Regulation applies as of 7 June 2022. Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas, said: “With these landmark new rules, we are cracking down on the proliferation of terrorist content online and making the EU's Security Union a reality. From now on, online platforms will have one hour to get terrorist content off the web, ensuring attacks like the one in Christchurch cannot be used to pollute screens and minds. This is a huge milestone in Europe's counter-terrorism and anti-radicalization response.”
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: "Taking down terrorist content immediately is crucial to stop terrorists from exploiting the Internet to recruit and encourage attacks and to glorify their crimes. It is equally crucial to protect victims and their families from being confronted with crimes a second time online. The Regulation sets clear rules and responsibilities for member states and for online platforms, protecting freedom of speech where warranted."
Customs Union: EU steps up its rules on cash controls to fight money laundering and terrorist financing
New rules came into force on 3 June, which will improve the EU's system of controls of cash entering and leaving the EU. As part of the EU's efforts to tackle money laundering and to cut off sources of terrorist financing, all travellers entering or leaving EU territory are already obliged to complete a cash declaration when carrying €10,000 or more in currency, or its equivalent in other currencies, or other means of payment, such as travellers' cheques, promissory notes, etc.
As of 3 June, however, a number of changes will be implemented that will further tighten the rules and make it even more difficult to move large amounts of undetected cash. First, the definition of ‘cash' under the new rules will be extended and will now cover gold coins and certain other gold items. Second, customs authorities will be able to act on amounts lower than €10,000 when there are indications that cash is linked to criminal activity. Finally, customs authorities may also now request that a cash disclosure declaration be lodged when they detect €10,000 or more in cash being sent unaccompanied via post, freight or courier.
The new rules will also ensure that the competent authorities and national Financial Intelligence Unit in each member state have the information they need to track and tackle movements of cash that could be used to fund illegal activity. The implementation of the updated rules mean that the latest developments in the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) international standards on combating money laundering and terrorism financing are reflected in EU legislation. Full details and a factsheet on the new system are available here.
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