Europol to get new powers to disrupt terrorists’ online presence

The EU police agency Europol is expected to gain new powers that will help it fight terrorism and cybercrime, thanks to new governance rules endorsed by Civil Liberties Committee MEPs on Thursday.

The draft rules, which have already been approved by the European Parliament and European Council, will make it easier for Europol to set up specialised units to respond immediately to emerging threats.

The new regulation also includes clear rules for existing units or centres such as the Internet Referral Unit, which ensures the swift removal of websites praising terrorist acts or encouraging EU citizens to join terrorist organisations.

Europol will in some cases be able to exchange information directly with private entities such as firms or NGOs, which should enable it to work faster. For example, it will be able to contact social network service provider Facebook directly to ask it to delete a web page run by ISIS or request details of other pages that might be run by the same user, so as to prevent the spread of terrorist propaganda.

In order to avoid information gaps in the fight against organised crime and terrorism, the new rules state that member states should provide Europol with the data necessary to fulfil its objectives.

MEPs have ensured that Europol’s new powers will go hand in hand with increased data protection safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) will be responsible for monitoring Europol’s work and there will be a clear complaints procedure under EU law for citizens.

To ensure democratic control, Europol’s work will be overseen by a Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group with members from both national parliaments and the European Parliament.

Parliaments’ negotiators also ensured that all information exchange agreements between Europol and third countries will be assessed within 5 years after the entry into force of the new regulation, to ensure that they comply with data protection rules and EU standards for policing.

All that’s left to do is for the European Parliament to approve the new rules, and they are expected to do it this month. If they do, the new rules will take effect on 1 April 2017.

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