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Illegal content that spreads violent extremism via the internet should be deleted promptly, but in line with fundamental rights and freedom of expression, say Civil Liberties Committee MEPs in a non-binding resolution voted on Monday. They also recommend ways to discourage recruitment of EU citizens as “foreign fighters” and call on EU member states to step up judicial cooperation to this end.

In the non-binding report by Rachida Dati (EPP, FR), MEPs give their recommendations for a joint, comprehensive EU strategy to prevent radicalisation and recruitment of EU citizens by terrorist organisations. This strategy should involve foreign policy, social policy, education policy, law enforcement and justice, with an emphasis on preventive rather than reactive measures and on respect for fundamental rights, they say.


An estimated 5,000 European citizens have joined terrorist organisations and other military formations, particularly ISIS, Jahbat al-Nusra and others in the Middle East and North Africa.


Making would-be “foreign fighters” think again

 

MEPs stress the need for a common definition "of foreign fighters" to permit criminal proceedings against them. They call on EU member states to share good practices with regard to exit and return checks and freezing citizens’ financial assets in order to prevent them from taking part in terrorist activities in conflict areas in third countries.


They also stress that EU member states should be able to confiscate a passport, at the request of the competent judicial authority, in order to prevent the holder from joining a terrorist organisation. If possible, the EU should also establish close cooperation with third countries in order to identify persons leaving the EU to fight for terrorist organisations or returning thereafter.


But these measures must be accompanied by a proactive de-radicalisation and inclusion policies, say MEPs. The committee considers it vital to set up support systems where family members and friends can get help quickly in the event of behavioural changes suggesting that a citizen is being radicalised by terrorists or may be about to leave to join them. Member states should consider the possibility of establishing "hotlines" to this end, they say.


Stepping up cooperation among member states


MEPs stress the need to step up exchange of information among member states' law enforcement bodies and EU agencies such as Europol (police cooperation), Eurojust (judicial cooperation) and Cepol (police training) as well as making better use of tools such as the Schengen Information System. Better reporting at European level on the criminal records of terrorist suspects would speed up their detection and make it easier to monitor them, either when they leave or enter the EU, MEPs note.


They call on the EU to work on the set-up of judicial and law-enforcement cooperation agreements with third countries in order to facilitate the collection of evidence in these countries in full compliance with international human rights law.


Preventing radicalisation and recruitment via the internet


The internet and social networks are “significant platforms” in fuelling radicalisation and fundamentalism, as they facilitate the rapid, large-scale global distribution of hate messages and praise for terrorism, MEPs say.


They point out that internet companies and service providers have a legal responsibility to cooperate with member states' authorities by deleting any illegal content that spreads violent extremism. This should be done promptly, but in line with the rule of law and fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression, they add.


Member states should consider taking legal action, including criminal prosecution, against internet companies that refuse to comply with a request to delete illegal content. If a company refuses to cooperate and thus allows illegal content to circulate, this should be considered as an act of complicity equivalent to criminal intent, says the committee.


MEPs advocate introducing measures to make it easy for all internet users to flag illegal content circulating on the internet and social media networks. All member states should set up special units tasked with flagging such illegal content, they add. Finally, the internet industry and service providers should cooperate with member states’ authorities and civil society to promote powerful and attractive narratives to counter hate speech and radicalisation online, MEPs say.


Next steps

 

The draft report on preventing radicalisation is scheduled for a plenary vote in Strasbourg at the 23-26 November session).


The Civil Liberties Committee approved the non-binding resolution by 41 votes to 7, with 6 abstentions.