Personal Data Protection and the use of Information to Fight Online-Terrorist Propaganda, Recruitment, and Radicalization: Part I

What is the relationship between Data Protection and the use of information in the fight against terrorism? This complex question deserves more than a simple answer.  In fact, together with Dr. Milda Macenaite,  I have attempted to explore this question in great depth and shortly a book chapter will be published in the CRC Press (an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group, LLC): Online Terrorist PropagandaRecruitment, And Radicalization Book Project.

Starting today and in the following weeks, I will therefore post a series of short blogs on the issue, specifically looking at the use of information by law enforcement authorities (LEAs) and in particular, Europol in the countering of online terrorist propaganda, recruitment and radicalization. 

After the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London terrorist attacks, the Council of
the European Union  adopted the European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy with
the objective of combating terrorism and keep Europe safe and secure while at the same time respecting human rights. The approach taken by the EU can be considered both institutional and multifaceted, countering terrorism by way of:

prevention, countering radicalization and recruitment,

protection, providing for defence against attacks on people and infrastructure,

pursuing investigations into terrorist activities and persecuting terrorists, and

responding, adequately managing consequences post-attack.

The internet undoubtedly plays an important role in the diffusion and access to extremist propaganda and therefore increments the potential for recruitment and radicalization.  As a logical consequence of this, the EU Internal Security Strategy compelled EU states to directly remove illegal content that incite terrorism and to offer alternatives to terrorist narratives.

Calls, in fact, have been made for increased cooperation between law enforcement authorities, civil society and internet service providers.  But really how can we prevent terrorist recruitment? There are largely two approaches:

  1. Soft approach: focused on counter-radicalization and relies on positive
    measures like  use of counter-narratives, detente and the promotion of social
  2. Hard approach: eliminate online terrorism propaganda and radicalization and collect personal data and information as part of intelligence

It is quite evident that any approach to combating terrorism online will in one way or another lead to the collection and sharing of information and personal data, potentially impacting the right to personal data protection and perhaps even impacting other fundamental rights.

What information and under which circumstances can and should LEAs remove terrorist
propaganda from social media platforms and other websites?  When would such actions fall under the scope of the EU data protection framework? I will attempt to answer these and other question in my upcoming posts.


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