Speech at European Commission public private dialogue.

I spoke at the European Commission Public Private Dialogue to fight online illegal activities, Brussels, 27 November 2009. My talk below…

Text of statement by Johnny Ryan, Senior Researcher, Institute of International & European Affairs, at the European Commission Public Private Dialogue to fight online illegal activities, Brussels, 27 November 2009..

Preliminary remarks:

It is a pleasure to share the stage today with senior representatives from the Commission, government ministries of several EU Member States, Europol, the Vice President of EuroISPA, and the Director of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ENTO). I should like at the outset to thank the staff of the European Commission DG FSJ for organizing this meeting. It is a reflection of the breadth of their work that this gathering of senior law enforcement and internet industry representatives should be drawn together today to consider the future of this promising new medium, and the security of our citizens. The Commission, through the Safer Internet Program, the E-Commerce Directive, and other measures, has boldly attempted to grapple with not only the promise but the hazards of the Internet from a very early stage. It deserves tribute for its hard labour in this difficult, protean area.

Main text:

Security concerns should not blind us to the potential of the Internet. It is only a little over 5,000 days since the initial public offering (IPO) of Netscape in August 1995 kicked off the popular interest in the Internet, and the dot com boom. The first social network, sixdegrees.com, began operations in 1997, only 12 years ago. The Internet is a young, promising medium.

It is right that we should now reflect upon our choices. This is what the Commission has asked I and my colleagues at the IIEA to do.

***

The problem we are gathered here to consider is at nexus of two key trends: the democratisation of strategic violence, driven by mass-casualty terrorism; and the democratisation of communications, driven by the user-driven Internet.

In considering how to tackle this problem, we must consider the consequences. This is uncharted territory with unknown risks on two plains: On the one hand security is at issue. On the other, the economic/cultural/social potential of the Internet as it evolves hangs in the balance.

General Eisenhower once said that peace and justice were two sides of the same coin. Our primary task is to balance these concerns, to avoid sacrificing the latter to secure the former.

***

By August 2010 our final recommendations will be presented to the Commission. I must impress on you the importance of grasping the moment of opportunity in our hands. As we know, governments across Europe have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of terrorist attacks being conducted on their own soil by their own citizens. Though we have little data on the degree of the Internet’s importance in the radicalisation of prospective militants, it is clear that the Internet could be vulnerable to policy missteps.

It is crucial to recognise at this early stage of the Internet’s development that the Net, like the high seas, is part of the global commons, and any official approach to it at this early stage in its development must be considered from the long-term perspective.

It is right now to begin our deliberations to avoid the prospect that policy makers may be under pressure to act precipitously following a future terrorist attack, and thereby allow short-term misregulation to negatively effect the Internet. In short, this is a brief moment of opportunity for us all to collectively breathe deeply before stepping forward.

***

In the next two months the IIEA will be soliciting your input to insure that concrete cases of best practise from across the EU are included.

Our recommendations will reflect not our own knowledge but yours. This is why we ask for your assistance as we deliberate on how best to prevent the spread of violent radical materials on the Internet.

We are concerned with three key questions:

A. How each hotline in the EU operates.

B. The current status of cooperation between all law enforcement, the hotlines, and industry in each Member State.

C. Best practices which might be transferable and appropriate across the EU.

We will be further considering the nature of violent radical content, and its amenability to the range of actions that we identify.

***

There is an old African proverb that Al Gore is fond of quoting:

‘If you want to go quickly, go alone;
if you want to go far, go together’.

We must go far, and quickly. I hope you will accept this invitation to cooperate in this quick study and allow us the opportunity to present your ideas, knowledge, and experience as the Commission considers how best to proceed across the EU.

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