EU to revamp laws to tackle online crime and terrorism

The EU wants IT companies to help with this effort

The European Commission plans sweeping rule changes to better combat online terrorism and cybercrime.

"The Internet and e-commerce offer huge advantages for Europeans as individuals and for our companies, but it is also a new playground for cyber criminals," Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said during a speech given in the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Old laws and rules that aren't stringent enough, such as those regulating the sale of firearms online, need to be revised, Timmermans said. "It is unacceptable that a Kalashnikov can be bought easily on the Internet," he said. New rules are also needed to battle financial fraud because the current framework is outdated in areas like virtual currency and online payment, he said.

As part of the so-called European Agenda on Security, the Commission also plans to launch a forum with major IT companies this year to develop tools to tackle terrorist propaganda on the Internet.

The Commission proposed such a forum last year, and in October brought together EU national Interior ministers and senior representatives from Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. However, the Commission seeks a dialogue with a wider range of companies, said a Commission official, adding that participants will determine the topics and measures to be discussed.

This group will also explore ways to address the concerns of law enforcement authorities on new encryption technologies, the Commission said. EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove in January called on the Commission to force Internet and telecommunications companies to share encryption keys with police and intelligence agencies to help fight terrorism.

More cooperation between EU law enforcement agencies is also needed, said Timmermans, who called for more data sharing among these agencies. The priority is to identify and overcome obstacles to criminal investigations, such as access to Internet-based evidence and information.

Europol will also be reformed and given responsibility for creating a European counterterrorist center to support national authorities' efforts against terrorists, terrorist financing, extremist online content and illicit trafficking of firearms, the Commission said.

At the same time, already proposed reforms including new data protection rules should be dealt with quickly, Timmermans said. He also called for a swift introduction of a controversial plan to retain and share passenger flight data across the EU. The Passenger Name Record (PNR) system would help prevent, detect, probe and prosecute terrorist offenses and serious transnational crime, according to the Commission.

However, the plan for such a database could face resistance from several members of the European Parliament. Jan Philipp Albrecht, vice chairman of the Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, said in a statement that the mass surveillance of airline passengers will not make people safer.

On the contrary, collecting more data may lead to a situation where law enforcement struggles to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, causing them to find hazards too late, Albrecht said.

The Commission asked the EU's other two law-making bodies, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, to endorse the plans in order to renew the EU's Internal Security Strategy, which sets out the challenges, principles and guidelines for dealing with security threats. The strategy should be the basis for cooperation and joint action on security for the next five years, it said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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