Commission presents new measures to secure free and fair elections, counter terrorism and invest in cybersecurity
As announced yesterday by President Jean-Claude Juncker in his 2018 State of the Union Address, the Commission has proposed new measures to secure free and fair elections and counter terrorism – offline and online.
The measures include new rules to get terrorist content off the web within 1 hour and a reinforced European Public Prosecutor's Office to fight cross-border terrorism. The Commission is also taking action to protect free and fair European elections from manipulation by third countries or private interests, and to pool resources and expertise in cybersecurity technology.
New rules to get terrorist content off the web
The new rules proposed by the Commission will help ensure terrorist content online is swiftly removed. The key features of the new rules are:
- The one-hour rule: Terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours after it appears online because of the speed at which it spreads. This is why the Commission is proposing a legally binding one-hour deadline for content to be removed following a removal order from national competent authorities;
- A clear definition of terrorist content as material that incites or advocates committing terrorist offences, promotes the activities of a terrorist group or provides instruction in techniques for committing terrorist offences;
- A duty of care obligation for all platforms to ensure they are not misused for the dissemination of terrorist content online. Depending on the risk of terrorist content being disseminated via their platforms, service providers will also be required to take proactive measures – such as the use of new tools – to better protect their platforms and their users from terrorist abuse;
- Increased cooperation: The proposal sets up a framework for strengthened co-operation between hosting service providers, Member States and Europol. Service providers and Member States will be required to designate points of contact reachable 24/7 to facilitate the follow up to removal orders and referrals;
- Strong safeguards: Content providers will be able to rely on effective complaint mechanisms that all service providers will have to put in place. Where content has been removed unjustifiably, the service provider will be required to reinstate it as soon as possible. Effective judicial remedies will also be provided by national authorities and platforms and content providers will have the right to challenge a removal order. For platforms making use of automated detection tools, human oversight and verification should be in place to prevent erroneous removals;
- Increased transparency and accountability: Transparency and oversight will be guaranteed with annual transparency reports required from service providers and Member States on how they tackle terrorist content as well as regular reporting on proactive measures taken;
- Strong and deterrent financial penalties: Member States will have to put in place effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties for not complying with orders to remove online terrorist content. In the event of systematic failures to remove such content following removal orders, a service provider could face financial penalties of up to 4% of its global turnover for the last business year.
A European response to better fight cross-border terrorist threats
The reinforced European Public Prosecutor's Office will improve the fight against terrorism by filling existing gaps:
- Coordinated investigations: Today, EU Member States are competent to investigate and prosecute terrorist crimes but their powers end at their national borders. The European Public Prosecutor's Office would be in charge of the investigations and direct the different Member States' authorities and EU agencies dealing with terrorist cases affecting more than one Member State;
- Timely exchange of information: Although significant progress has been made with successful cases of cross-border cooperation, the exchange of information on criminal cases between Member States on investigation and prosecution of terrorist crimes is today sometimes still too slow. This can result in some terrorists escaping prosecution. With its integrated structure, the European Public Prosecutor's Office would be in a position to obtain a unique overview of the terrorists' activities across all participating Member States. It would have better access to information from Member States through the European Prosecutors part of the European Public Prosecutor's college or the European delegated prosecutors. It would be best placed to gather and share information across the entire Union, including with the EU Agencies Eurojust and Europol, as well as with non-EU countries;
- Coherence of investigations in different Member States:Today, there is a risk that terrorist cases affecting more than one Member State are investigated in an uncoordinated manner, putting at risk a successful prosecution. The European Public Prosecutor's Office would steer centrally the investigations, irrespective of where the crimes occurred and then better connect investigation and prosecution. Moreover, the reinforced European Public Prosecutor, as a Union level actor, would avoid inefficient parallel prosecution of connected cases, which often endangers the successful fight against terrorist crimes.
Measures for securing free and fair European elections
The set of measures presented today by the European Commission consists of:
- A Recommendation on election cooperation networks, online transparency, protection against cybersecurity incidents and fighting disinformation campaigns: Member States are encouraged to set up a national election cooperation network of relevant authorities – such as electoral, cybersecurity, data protection and law enforcement authorities – and to appoint a contact point to participate in a European-level election cooperation network. This will enable authorities to quickly detect potential threats, exchange information and ensure a swift and well-coordinated response.
- The Commission is also recommending greater transparency in online political advertisements and targeting. European and national political parties, foundations and campaign organisations should make available information on their expenditure on online advertising campaigns, by disclosing which party or political support group is behind online political advertisements as well as by publishing information on targeting criteria used to disseminate information to citizens. Where these principles are not followed, Member States should apply national sanctions.
- National authorities, political parties and media should also take measures to protect their network and information systems from cybersecurity threats, based on guidance developed by national authorities within the Network and Information Systems (NIS) cooperation group, with the EU Cybersecurity Agency and the European Commission.
- Guidance on the application of EU data protection law. The guidance will help national authorities and European and national political parties to apply the data protection obligations under EU law in the electoral context.The EU's General Data Protection Regulation applies since May 2018 and also covers all European and national political parties and other actors in the electoral context like data brokers and social media platforms. In light of the Cambridge Analytica case and more generally the growing impact of micro-targeting of voters based on their personal data, the Commission recalls the data protection obligations for all actors in the European elections.
- A legislative amendment to tighten the rules on European political party funding. The targeted change of the 2014 Regulation on party funding will make it possible to impose financial sanctions for breaching data protection rules in order to deliberately influence the outcome of the European elections. Sanctions would amount to 5% of the annual budget of the European political party or foundation concerned. The sanction will be enforced by the Authority for European political parties and European political foundations. In addition, those found to be in breach would not be able to apply for funding from the general budget of the European Union in the year in which the sanction is imposed.
- A Regulation to pool resources and expertise in cybersecurity technology. To keep up with the ever-evolving cyber threats, the Commission is proposing to create a Network of Cybersecurity Competence Centres to better target and coordinate available funding for cybersecurity cooperation, research and innovation. A new European Cybersecurity Competence Centre will manage cybersecurity-related financial support from the EU's budget and facilitate joint investment by the Union, Member States and industry to boost the EU's cybersecurity industry and make sure our defence systems are state-of-the-art.
The actions proposed today complement other actions carried out by the Commission, such as the entry into application of the new EU data protection rules, the wide-ranging set of measures to build strong cybersecurity in the EU currently negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council, and the ongoing efforts to tackle disinformation online.
Securing free and fair European elections
Press Release State of the Union 2018: European Commission proposes measures for securing free and fair European elections
Factsheet – Free and fair European elections
Factsheet – Protecting Europeans' personal data in elections
Factsheet – Building strong cybersecurity in Europe
New rules to get terrorist content off the web
Factsheet – A Europe that Protects: Countering terrorist content online
A reinforced European Public Prosecutor's Office
Press Release – State of the Union 2018: A reinforced European Public Prosecutor's Office to fight cross-border terrorism
Factsheet – A reinforced European Public Prosecutor's Office to fight terrorist crimes
13 September 2018