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EU Council Presidency outlines future counter-terrorism priorities

By Statewatch (guest author) · March 27, 2019

A note produced by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union sets out the EU’s response to terrorism since 2015. It highlights the main measures adopted and calls for a “reflection process on the way forward” in a number of areas including “interoperability and extended use of biometrics”; implementing the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive and possibly extending its scope beyond air travel; and “synergies” between internal and external policies.

The issues highlighted in the document were discussed by the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council on 7-8 March. It was noted that “the process of reflecting on the way forward will continue at technical level”.

On the issue of “interoperability and extended use of biometrics”, the paper says (emphasis added):
“The package on interoperability should be fully implemented. Existing databases should be filled with good quality data, and tools (such as biometrics and facial recognition) should be improved to enable querying with data across more EU information systems. All relevant competent authorities in the CT [counter-terrorism] area should have direct access to relevant information systems (notably SIS II and Prüm) to avoid information and security gaps. Connecting more systems could be explored in parallel to implementation.

This implies an appetite for further expanding the interoperability initiative before there has been any opportunity to fully assess how it functions in practice – despite serious data protection and privacy concerns raised by specialists and some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

The Council and Parliament recently provisionally agreed a text on two key Regulations underpinning the interoperability plans.

Regarding PNR, the note recalls the importance of all Member States fully implementing the EU PNR Directive, agreed in 2016, and says:
“The collection and processing of PNR data is crucial to detect, prevent and prosecute terrorist offences, and the effective connection of the PIUs of the Member States for information exchange is a priority. The further broadening of the scope of PNR (to other means of transportation) could be explored.

Regarding internal-external “synergies”, the Presidency highlights:
“The nexus between internal and external security has become increasingly prominent, and progress has been made in better connecting the two areas. Together with the Commission, the EEAS [European External Action Service] and the EU CTC [Counter-Terrorism Coordinator], the Presidency is further exploring ways to strengthen the links between the external and internal dimensions of security in relation to CT [counter-terrorism]. This includes focusing on the use of internal instruments to promote EU security interests related to CT in priority third countries (e.g. Western Balkans, Turkey and the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region)…”

Other ongoing work outlined in the document concerns “violent extremism and radicalisation”; data retention; the financing of terrorism; “chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) risks, in particular chemical risks”; cooperation between EU agencies; and “emerging threats”:
“Evolving technologies such as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain or the Internet of Things, could be misused by terrorist groups. Tackling these threats requires high-tech expertise, meaning that more efforts at national and EU level are required to address the emerging threats, including through public-private partnerships and research and development. At the same time, the opportunities of the new technologies for security need to be explored and mobilised.”

The document also includes a list of adopted counter-terrorism measures, measures awaiting formal adoption, and measures under discussion.

Biometrics, extended travel surveillance, internal-external “synergies”: Presidency note outlines future counter-terrorism priorities

EU response to terrorism – state of play and way forward (28.02.2019)

(Contribution by EDRi member Statewatch, the United Kingdom)