In an increasingly complex and transnational security landscape, Catherine De Bolle, executive director, Europol, says we must pool our resources and expertise and ensure discussion and political will at the highest levels
On 15 March 2019, the world watched in horror as a terrorist attack, against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live-streamed. The speed and volume of internet abuse in the aftermath of the attack showed the limitations in addressing such threats as well as made clear the harm that can be caused by terrorist and violent extremist content online.
After Christchurch, we realised we needed to further bolster society’s response to these evolving threats. Consequently, Europol is now working with the European Commission and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to create a crisis protocol that aims to facilitate rapid assessment and effective coordination and management of a future online crisis between EU law enforcement and online service providers.
Europol is also already working on combating terrorist content online through our EU Internet Referral Unit. Despite the shrinking physical footprint of the so-called Islamic State, the group continues to galvanise a significant number of online supporters. The broad dissemination of terrorist content online along with the additional layer of anonymity provided by many platforms presents challenges for law enforcement. For these reasons, a common EU response to terrorist content online was necessary. Therefore, in 2015, Europol established the EU IRU to detect and investigate malicious content on the internet and social media. It has since become a crucial tool in combating online radicalisation in the European Union.
Threats to law enforcement
Indisputably, the internet and technology are fundamentally shaping security challenges and responses in the European Union. The opportunities for law enforcement in harnessing new technologies are as great as the challenges they pose and their potential utility by criminal actors.
For example, 5G and the Internet of Things are considered to be some of the most critical building blocks of our digital economy and society over the next decades. They also might jeopardise law enforcement’s capacity to carry out technical investigations and lawful interceptions, necessary to investigate serious and organised crime or terrorism.
Similarly, artificial intelligence can empower criminals who seek to attack systems and networks and become an advanced tool in the arsenal for cyberattacks. However, AI can provide essential opportunities in the area of data processing for law enforcement. In the case of child sexual exploitation, the amount of material detected online by law enforcement and the private sector continues to increase. AI can help ensure law enforcement can properly assess the enhanced volume of data coming in, while also being able to engage in foresight based on pattern recognition.
As executive director of Europol, I know that EU police chiefs and law enforcement are concerned about criminals’ use of new technologies and about our ability as law enforcement to adapt our response to an increasingly complex and transnational security landscape. There is a need to pool resources and expertise at the European level.
Europol has a strong culture of innovation, which aims at finding solutions to these challenges. We are currently working on complementing national capabilities and reducing the need for investments at the national level by developing a highly specialised, state-of-the-art decryption platform, forensic services and facial recognition tools based on artificial intelligence, for example.
Europol’s Strategy 2020+ sets out my ambition to establish Europol as a hub for innovation bringing together law enforcement, the private sector and academia, to facilitate the development of innovative solutions tailored to the needs of law enforcement. Such an entity would enhance the EU’s ability to articulate an operational vision of innovation within the realm of internal security, and be ready for future disruptions. Additionally, the aim is to collaborate with the private sector to contribute to developments in innovation to make sure that new technologies are safe and secure so society and law enforcement can benefit from them.
Europol’s mission is to contribute to a safer Europe by providing the best possible support to EU law enforcement. To achieve this goal and more effectively tackle common security threats in Europe and in the world, it is clear that we all need to join forces. Therefore, I am glad to see that one of the French G7 presidency’s priorities is to work closer together in providing joint responses to international security challenges, especially against the use of the internet for terrorist purposes. Security and the rule of law are founding principles of the EU and integral elements for the future of our societies and democracies. Thus, it is important not only that there is discussion within the law enforcement community on finding solutions to security issues, but also that there is discussion and political will at the highest levels such as the G7. I hope it will be a successful summit.