International tabletop exercise organised to further bolster cross-sector collaboration in the aftermath of a terrorist event

On 5 November 2021, Europol, in cooperation with the European Commission, organised a tabletop exercise to test the implementation of the EU Crisis Protocol. The exercise took place in the framework of the EU Internet Forum and examined the collaboration between government authorities and the tech industry to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online in the aftermath of a terrorist event. Among the tested elements was real-time communication between governments and online service providers and the interaction of processes when more than one crisis mechanism (sector/geography-specific) is initiated.

Who was involved?

The exercise brought together law enforcement representatives from EU Member States and third party countries, online service providers, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), the Christchurch Call, the Aqaba Process, as well as policy makers from governments, EU bodies and international organisations.

Claudio Galzerano, Head of Europol’s Counter Terrorism Centre, said: “This tabletop exercise was an excellent opportunity to firmly establish our public-private partnership with members of the technology industry in our ongoing fight against terrorism. It is imperative that we work together to share information in real time and use the latest technological advances to curtail terrorist and extremist content on online platforms.”

A rapid, coordinated response to terrorist content online

The EU Crisis Protocol, adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in October 2019, is a voluntary mechanism that allows EU Member States and online platforms to respond rapidly and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist content online in the event of a terrorist attack, while ensuring strong data protection and fundamental rights safeguards.
The development of the Protocol came about in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019, whereby leaders from governments, tech industry, civil society and the EU Commission agreed on the ‘Christchurch Call for Action’. Since then, other crisis mechanisms have been developed both at a national level and by the tech sector.

Yolanda Gallego-Casilda Grau, EU Commission representative and Head of the Prevention of Radicalisation Unit, said: “Terrorist attacks in Christchurch, Halle and Conflans-Sainte-Honorine serve as strong reminders that the online dimension can be an integral part of a terrorist attack, with the aim of further spreading the messages and objectives of terrorists. Our partnerships with tech companies facilitate the rapid assessment of the online impact of terrorist attacks, and the secure and timely sharing of critical information necessary for effective crisis response”.

Tom Thorley, GIFCT Director of Technology, said: “A vital component of fulfilling GIFCT’s mission to prevent terrorist and violent extremist exploitation of digital platforms is how we strengthen our members’ collective efforts to respond to terrorist and violent extremist attacks. GIFCT’s Incident Response Framework streamlines how our tech company members can communicate and share situational awareness as an incident unfolds in order to identify any online dimension to an offline attack. In this inherently dynamic space, it’s critical to continue refining our efforts and how we engage with our partners, including through tabletop exercises like this one.”

Europol has undertaken a central role in the EU Crisis Protocol implementation by managing the coordination of information exchange and communication among relevant stakeholders in a rapid and secure manner. Recent acts of terrorism in France and Austria in October-November 2020 have further demonstrated the importance of disrupting the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist propaganda during, and in the aftermath of, terrorist attacks, while at the same time supporting investigations. In order to enhance cross-sector collaboration and further advance the EU Crisis Protocol processes, Europol is hosting targeted tabletop exercises.