Monday

1st Mar 2021

EU to target migrant integration and encrypted apps

  • Linking migrants with Islamist terrorism has been a far-right speaking point for years (Photo: European Commission)

Migrants ought to learn EU languages and "integrate" their children, while encrypted messaging apps should give keys to authorities to combat terrorism, EU ministers are preparing to say.

Those were the key points in a draft "declaration" to be adopted by home affairs ministers on Friday (13 November).

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The eight-page text, leaked to the Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, said recent attacks in France and Austria showed the "extent of the threat we face from Islamist terrorism".

"Successful integration of immigrants with a sense of belonging and equality is of central importance for the social cohesion of our modern pluralist, and open societies," it said.

"Integration is a two-way street: providing support but expecting more in return ... This means that migrants are expected to make an active effort to become integrated", it added.

In concrete terms, this involved "learning the language of one's new country, earning a living for oneself and for one's family, and supporting the integration of one's children".

"We want to strengthen European Muslims as our partners in the fight against Islamist extremism, for they too are its victims," the declaration said.

"We want to support them in their efforts to organise their religion independently of foreign interference," it added.

And it laid out an action plan for EU authorities to help "uphold common values and the European way of life".

This included trying "to develop a shared language at European level, which distinguishes between Islam and Islamism in the sense of religiously motivated extremism".

But it also included "sanctions", saying EU governments should be able to tackle those who showed "sustained refusal to integrate".

They should also be able to "take systematic action to prevent radicalisation", by taking down offensive online content.

They ought to cut public funding to "organisations that support content hostile to integration".

And they should "consider the matter of data encryption, so that digital evidence that has been collected can be used by the competent authorities".

The declaration touched on sensitive issues - not least by associating Muslim migrants with a terrorist threat, which has been a talking point of EU far-right politicians for years.

The phrase "European way of life" has been associated with the same problem, ever since the European Commission named its migration commissioner, Margaratis Schinas, as being in charge of "promoting our European way of life".

Encrypted Apps

Meanwhile, EU states laid out more details of their approach toward encrypted apps, such as Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp, in a separate, five-page "draft resolution" leaked to Austrian broadcaster FM4 and due to be adopted later down the line, on 25 November.

The resolution said the tech firms behind them should give law-enforcement authorities the means to bypass their codes.

"Competent authorities must be able to access data in a lawful and targeted manner," the draft text said.

"Potential technical solutions will have to enable authorities to use their investigative powers," it added.

"Law enforcement is increasingly dependent on access to electronic evidence to effectively fight terrorism, organised crime, child sexual abuse ... as well as a variety of cyber-enabled crimes ," it noted.

"For competent authorities, access to electronic evidence is not only essential to conduct successful investigations and thereby bring criminals to justice, but also to protect victims and help ensure security," it also said.

It made much of the need to "balance these interests" with people's "fundamental rights" and to "comply with the principles of legality, transparency, necessity, and proportionality".

But the revelations quickly attracted criticism from left-wing MPs and MEPs.

Back doors

"Anyone who finds an open back door into my house can enter it, the same is true for back doors in software ... The proposed EU regulation is an attack on the integrity of digital infrastructure and therefore very dangerous," German MP Anke Domscheit-Berg told the AP news agency.

The move "would open back doors also for hackers, foreign intelligence", German MEP Patrick Breyer added.

The text on migrant integration was drafted by France, Austria, and the German EU presidency.

The one on encrypted apps was drafted by Germany alone, which has some of the tightest laws in Europe on protection of private data and a culture of hostility toward government snooping, in a legacy of the former communist regime in east Germany.

EU declarations and resolutions are not legally-binding, but point the way to future legislation.

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