Council of Europe Open Forum: Terrorism, the Internet and Human Rights - Preventing Misuse of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes

Meeting type: 
Open Forum
Meeting Description: 

The use of the Internet by terrorists as a tool for supporting or perpetrating their activities, and the potential for cyber-attacks by terrorists against critical infrastructure, are among the primary challenges countries may face in terms of the misuse of the Internet, and increasingly cannot be separated from terrorist activities otherwise. Terrorist groups and supporters can take advantage of the anonymity and wide reach of the Internet to exploit it for these purposes, a fact which has also complicated governments’ ability to track and stop terrorist activities online, while at the same time upholding the fundamental principles of human rights, such as freedom of expression.
 
The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes is one of the priority focus areas of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Experts on Terrorism (CODEXTER: http://www.coe.int/terrorism) has been surveying the situation in member states to evaluate whether existing international instruments are sufficient to respond to this emerging threat. As a result of this work, it adopted an expert opinion in 2007 and set up a database on the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes (http://www.coe.int/t/dlapil/codexter/cyberterrorism_db.asp).
 
The participants of this Open Forum are invited to discuss the Internet as a tool to support terrorism and ways and means to counter the use of the Internet by terrorists, while respecting and protecting fundamental human rights. Specific attention will be paid to existing international conventions and other instruments that promote the harmonization of national substantive and procedural law, international co-operation on the issue of the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, as well as national best practices in this respect.
Discussions will focus on the following three areas:

  1. Terrorist organisations’ presence on the Internet and use of the Internet for various purposes, including:
    1. the dissemination of propaganda related to ideology and activities;
    2. as a means of promoting radicalization within target communities;
    3. the use the Internet for recruitment and training purposes;
    4. as a tool for all aspects of financing terrorist activities.
       
  2. The Council of Europe approach to countering the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes – a comprehensive solution?
     
  3. Ways and means to ensure protection of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression, on the Internet in the context of the fight against terrorism.
Report
Reported by: 
Anna Tsitsina
A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised: 

During the Open Forum the participants affirmed the fundamental role of the Internet in our society and the need to use the Internet to promote human rights and democracy for all. The Council of Europe reiterated its message that no State should make use of the global fight against terrorism as a pretext for imposing any limitations on legitimate political discourse on the Internet or in any other type of media. It was stressed that the same principles apply offline, as they do online.
 
The participants discussed the Council of Europe’s preventive approach to countering terrorism, using a combination of the provisions contained in the Prevention Convention and the Cybercrime Convention. The necessity to have balanced human rights provisions was highlighted and in this respect, as well as its legally binding Conventions, the Council of Europe’s Guidelines on Human Rights and the fight against terrorism were seen as an example of best practice.
 
Furthermore the importance of international cooperation on the issue of prevention in order to achieve tangible results was highlighted and it was reiterated that both Conventions are also open for signature to non-member States of the Council of Europe.
 
During the discussions, the issues of the presence of extremist messages and websites online – which may be aimed at inciting, recruiting or training potential terrorists, and ways to deal with this content, were raised. This led to a follow up discussion on the necessity to prove intent in cases involving terrorism, as well as the importance of procedural safeguards in such cases. The work of the Council of Europe on countering hate speech was also highlighted as an example of a best practice when it comes to counter-narrative.
 
Concerning the admissibility of electronic evidence in court, participants were given the example of Pakistan, where following the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl claimed by a terrorist group, the country’s prosecution dealt with one of its first cases involving electronic evidence obtained from an IP address. This further raised the question of the use of electronic surveillance in terrorism investigations.
 
As for the role of civil society, the Open Forum discussed the participation of civil society in the terrorism prevention process and the role of intermediaries and voluntary co-operation. The participants elaborated two aspects of this issue – one being intermediary liability, the other – information disclosure to law enforcement authorities and in this respect the need for private sector cooperation with the law enforcement was mentioned.
 
Finally concerning importance of counter-narrative, discussions were held on the topic of legal responses v. soft measures, and specific examples of national counter-narratives from the US, the UK and international counter-narrative approaches of the UN and the EU were given. The participants reaffirmed the need to fight the sources of terrorism, which in turn lead to prevention of acts of terrorism and for balancing the criminalisation approach with soft measures at both national and international levels.

Conclusions and further comments: 

The Council of Europe Open Forum on Terrorism, the Internet and Human Rights was a welcome event which generated a lot of interest and allowed for a discussion on issues of great importance and concern to many IGF participants. Constructive points were made on a range of topics, both of a general prevention nature, as well as specifically concerning the use of the Council of Europe Conventions to tackle misuse of the internet by terrorists. These conclusions can now be used to develop a specific follow-up strategy, and evolving issues such as electronic surveillance, counter-narrative, the role of intermediaries and voluntary cooperation, etc. can be discussed in greater detail by the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on Terrorism in order to generate feedback in time for the next IGF meeting.

Gender Report Card
Please estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session: 
About half of the participants were women
To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment?: 
It was not seen as related to the session theme and was not raised
Provide the name of the speakers and their affiliation to various stakeholder groups: 

Mr. Philippe Boillat - Director General, Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe.
 
Mr Zahid Jamil, Barrister-at-law, Jamil & Jamil, Karachi, Pakistan.

Ms Gertraude Kabelka, Former Chair to the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on Terrorism (CODEXTER), Senior Legal Expert of the Austrian Ministry of Justice.
Mr Alexander Seger, Secretary to the Cybercrime Convention Committee, Head of the Data Protection and Cybercrime Division, Council of Europe.

Ms Sarah Logan, Phd Candidate, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

Provide the name of the organiser(s) of the Meeting and their affiliation to various stakeholder groups: 

Ms Anna Tsitsina - Advisor, Terrorism Division, Council of Europe
 
The Council of Europe is an international political organisation, which brings together over 800 million citizens from 47 countries, making up an entire democratic continent. Its key objectives are promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Its headquarters are in Strasbourg, France. www.coe.int

Member states: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia. Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom.

Have you organised a Meeting (Dynamic Coalition, Open Forum, Side Session) before? If yes, please provide links to report(s): 

No

Background document: