Directive on combating terrorism

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See the legislative folder on the website of the European Parliament.

Introduction

The directive on combatting terrorism has been tabled by the European Commission after the terrorist attacks that took place in Europe in 2014 and 2015, in particular after the Paris attacks on 13 November. This directive aims at replacing the framework decision of 13 June 2002 on fighting terrorism. However, this project does not feature much new material, except for penalisation of travels in regions were terror operations take place and apology of terrorism.

Beside definition of terrorist infractions, the project includes a number of measures, for example turning certain terrorist activities into criminal offences.

  • Apology of terrorism and "when committed intentionally, diffusion or publication in any other form of a message, with the intention to incite to committing" terrorist actions (article 5). However, this proposal is extremely blurry and the criteria of intention cannot sufficiently protect a person sharing messages considered as encouraging terrorist offences for information or liberty reasons.
  • Travels abroad for terrorism purposes, "when committed deliberately, going to another country in order to commit terrorist offences". Again, this infraction is extremely wide and blurry.

This draft Directive will be discussed in the LIBE commission of the European Parliament on 3 May 2016 and will then go to plenary[1].

Hohlmeier Report

On 9 March, the rapporteur, Monika Hohlmeier (EPP[2], Germany) presented her report including numerous amendments, some of which are very plainly geared towards Internet censorship.

Net censorship and blocking websites

Monika Hohlmeier tabled several amendments aiming at strengthening online repression and censorship, by focusing only on the use of the Internet by "fanatics worldwide" [Amendment 3] and on the difficulty to trace their online activity, thus justifying Member States cooperation in the detection and the deletion of illegal content such as those "[making] glorification and apology of terrorism, or dissemination of messages or images, including those related to victims of terrorism, used to propagate the terrorist cause". [Amendment 6]

Amendment 6 modifying recital 7 and amendment 40 introducing a new article 14bis on "webpages publicly inciting to committing terrorist offences", in order to "remove" or "block access" to "webpages publicly inciting to committing terrorist offences" [Amendment 6]. However, these amendments leave a large leeway for Member States to enforce any measures that they will seem appropriate, as long as the procedures are " transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the restriction is limited to what is necessary and proportionate" [Amendments 6 and 40].

Monika Hohlmeier's safeguards do not protect against extra-judiciary repression of online content. The provisions advocated for by the German rapporteur seem tailored to fit the censorship measures that France has put in place, as to validate them at the European level, and specifically:

  • one the one hand, the ability to require that online services (such as social networks and other hosts) monitor their users' communications in order to censor content;
  • on the other hand, the ability for governments to require that ISPs block the websites on which such content would be published.

This measure would allow for extending private censorship and to trivialise administrative censorship, as France has done, by bypassing judicial control under the guise of avoiding the purported impediments of judiciary red-tape. However, considering the difficulty of judging what falls within glorification or apology of terrorism, the delegation of judiciary functions to private or administrative actors goes against the protection of fundamental rights.

Website blocking - tabled without the slightest impact study - shows itself to be a disproportionate freedom-limiting measure on communication. Considering that the blocking are very easily bypassed, these measures are no long-term solution against glorification and apology of terrorism. A number of technical means can be used to make distribution and diffusion of websites possible, notwithstanding that the actual impact on incitations to terrorism remains uncertain. A well-known method consists in setting up an encrypted tunnel, the so-called "proxy", that is a piece of software placed between a client and a server that allow two host computers to communicate with each other without transmissions ever reaching the actual server and being traceable. Furthermore, the inevitable risk of blocking perfectly legitimate content makes website blocking even more disproportionate.

Furthermore, experience from France shows the limits of this system. The person in charge authorised by CNIL to control blocking measures has published his activity report in April 2016.

  • Article 6-1 of LCEN provides for content hosts and editors to be notified of the removal notice beforehand, with a 24-hour margin to remove the litigious content. However, the person in charge clearly indicates that this measure is bypassed without justification under the pretext that "in practice, editors and hosts are almost never identified". This constitutes a breach of law that attacks the rights of content hosts and editors who might have been notified but were not, without justification.
  • The person in charge insists on the utmost difficulty to judge whether content "making an apology of terrorist actions or inciting to such actions" are illegal or not, which considerably reinforces the absolute need to recommand a judiciary process.
  • The number of requests for blocking website with terrorist content amounted to 68 for 2015, which is a very low number
  • The State of Emergency law, modified by the law of 20 November 2015, allows the Interior Minister to take "any measures to ensure interruption of any online public communication service that incites to committing terrorist actions or makes apologies of these" during the state of emergency. However, at the publication of the report, the Minister of the Interior had never used this disposition.

On the other hand, the French example provides interesting insights on the blattant lack of transparency of the blocking procedure. The law only provides for the block as such. However, the French government has set up a redirection of requests for blocked pages towards a webpage hosted by the Ministry of the Interior, explaining the reasons for the block. As the Exégètes Amateurs state in their appeal to the Council of State against that measure, this "automated redirection of Internet users to a Ministry of the Interior webpage constitutes an infringement on freedom of communication and on secrecy of correspondence that is not provided for in the law, as well as a violation of the dispositions of the law of 6 January 1978 on Computing, files and liberties." Thus, the lack of a judiciary process to guarantee transparency and respect of fundamental liberties has allowed the Government to set up an opaque procedure that infringes on liberties.

  • The lack of transparency is blatant, as
    • neither the author, host or reader of the web page know what the charges are, what content is considered litigious on the blocked website, and none has any means to know the motivations for the block or the advancement of the procedure that led the administration to blocking the website
    • the list of blocked addresses is kept a secret and neither Internet users nor the persons directly concerned by the block are informed
    • the blocking procedure and the motives that may lead to blocking a website are nowhere specified.
  • The Goverment is setting up an illegal processing of personal data, since the data transmitted through the redirection notably comprises the IP address <ref>Should an IP address be considered a personal information? This question has never been definitely answered and was asked to the Court of Justice of the European Union in the context of the case C-582/14 Breyer c. Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

Considering the context of these remarks, the amendments seem to be an unacceptable criticism of freedom of expression and freedom of information as laid down in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. They should at least be amended to put back a judicial judge back into the core of the process, in order to stop any censorship through private or administrative means.

Recherche de preuves électroniques

La question des preuves électroniques est amenée de façon relativement vague dans le rapport par la rapporteure Monika Hohlmeier, via notamment les amendements 19 et 20, créant les considérants 15 sexties et 15 septies. Il s'agit de faciliter la coordination des État, via Eurojust notamment, dans « le rassemblement, le partage et la recevabilité des preuves électronique ». Or l'amendement 20 vise très clairement les « anonymiseurs, serveurs proxy, réseau Tor, liaisons par satellite et réseaux 3G étrangers », ainsi que le stockage sur des serveurs distants (« dans le nuage »). L'amendement précise que les États membres « devraient donc coopérer entre eux, notamment dans le cadre d'Eurojust, afin de déceler et d'éliminer les éventuels obstacles concernant les preuves électroniques dans les demandes d'entraide judiciaire. »

Si l'on lit entre les lignes, la volonté de la rapporteure et des États comme la France qui soutiennent cette mesure est double. Il s'agit d'une part de s'attaquer au chiffrement et d'autre part d'augmenter drastiquement les moyens d'investigation de la police.

Le chiffrement

Les moyens de chiffrement et le développement des technologies selon le concept du « privacy by design » sont des outils qui permettent aux individus et entreprises de de protéger leurs communications. Il s'agit tout d'abord de l'appropriation par les individus du droit au respect de la vie privée ainsi que du droit au secret des correspondances. Ces droits ont une résonance toute particulière face à la surveillance de masse opérée par certains États, et face à la collecte et au traitement des données personnelles par les entreprises. Il s'agit aussi pour les entreprises de sécuriser leurs activités, communications et transactions. Fragiliser les technologies de chiffrement et de « privacy by design » en imposant par exemple aux fabricants d'appareils et logiciels des failles (ou « portes dérobées », porte une atteinte non nécessaire et non proportionnée au droit à la vie privée, rompt la confiance des utilisateurs de logiciels et de matériels, et réduit les capacités d'innovation des entreprises.

Pouvoir d'investigation de la police

Responsabilité pénale des entreprises

Étude d'impact

La Commission européenne prévoit que des études d'impact doivent être élaborées, afin d'étudier la nécessité d'une action au niveau de l'Union européenne, ainsi que les conséquences économiques, sociales et environnementales d'une telle action, lorsque les initiatives de la Commission sont susceptibles d'avoir d'importantes incidences sur le plan économique, social ou environnemental.

La Commission donne même des lignes directrices pour l'élaboration des études d'impact avec notamment :

  • une consultation publique de 12 semaines
  • une description claire de qui sera affecté par l'initiative

Une directive pour combattre le terrorisme aura des incidences très fortes sur les droits et libertés des européens et pourtant la Commission européenne n'a pas jugé nécessaire de prendre le temps de réfléchir à l'impact d'une telle réglementation, alors que dans plusieurs pays de l'Union européenne des lois extrêmement attentatoires aux droits et libertés sont adoptées ou sont en voie d'adoption, au nom de la lutte contre le terrorisme.

Il est plus qu'urgent qu'une réflexion profonde soit menées non seulement par les États membres, mais aussi par les institutions européennes sur les conséquences de l'élaboration de lois sécuritaires, avec des bilans et analyses des lois existantes, de leur nécessité, proportionnalité et de leur efficacité.

Notes

  1. The vote in plenary could take place during the month of June 2016
  2. European People's Party that notably includes the French "Les Républicains" party