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In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead, several European governments have signaled they might increase their powers to monitor Internet communications to help stop possible future violence.
“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence, and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” a statement signed by the interior or justice ministers of France, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Latvia said after the Charlie Hebdo attack and hostage drama.
It added: “The partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Canada’s minister of public safety were present when they signed the statement, which came just days before the White House unveiled new proposals for cybersecurity legislation that also called for cooperation by tech companies.
And British prime minister David Cameron visited the U.S. last week and asked President Obama to pressure tech giants, including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook, to do away with encrypted messaging services.
Cameron has said there should be no “safe spaces” for terrorists to communicate and that tech firms “need to work with us.”
Experts said that would also affect Facebook’s mobile messaging service WhatsApp, which it acquired in October for $19 billion, Snapchat, and Apple’s iMessage and Facetime, among others.
Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, which represents many tech giants, said: “Just as governments have a duty to protect to the public from threats, Internet services have a duty to our users to ensure the security and privacy of their data. That’s why Internet services have been increasing encryption security, and that’s why government access to data should be rule-bound, transparent, and tailored.”
While the debate about new government surveillance powers is likely to hit various European countries, it is not clear what the outcome may be.
Proposed legislation, which critics nicknamed “Snoopers’ Charter,” was effectively blocked by Cameron’s coalition partner in 2013. It would have required Internet service providers and mobile phone companies to keep records (not the actual content) of users’ browsing and social media activity, email correspondence, voice calls and mobile phone messaging services for 12 months.
But Cameron has said he would try to include new government powers in a revived bill, should he win a second term in power in the general election to be held in May.
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