EU warns of crime surge and terrorism vulnerabilities during Covid-19 pandemic

Bloc’s home affairs chief says criminals quickly adapted to new situation

Covid-19 led to a surge in illicit activity across Europe and the pandemic is likely to provide a breeding ground for terrorism, the EU's senior law and order official said.

Ylva Johansson noted in particular a rise in cyber crime, the increased use of ransomware and a booming counterfeit market. She cited the recent hacking of Ireland's healthcare system, which led to delays in outpatient services.

Ms Johansson said there had also been an increase in child sexual abuse online and paedophiles trying to contact children through the internet.

“We can see the organised criminal groups adapting extremely quickly to the new situation,” she said, after two days of meetings between EU justice and interior ministers.

Ms Johansson said that the danger from Islamist extremism remained and that right-wing terrorism "is a significant rising threat".

A statement after the talks said that so far, “the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the terrorist threat seems to have been limited”.

“However, the protracted pandemic may increase member states’ vulnerabilities and the risks of radicalisation. The online presence of extremist groups is on the rise since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

The statement said that counter-terrorism authorities’ work was made harder because they often had to rely only on online capabilities.

"In the medium to long term, the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences may prove to be a favourable breeding ground for extremist narratives. Some far-left, far-right and Islamist extremist groups have already incorporated Covid-19 into their narratives, and this might pose security challenges in the medium and long term," the ministers said.

The notification came after new EU rules that seek to clamp down on online terrorist content came into force in to stop the spread of extremist ideologies.

Under the regulations, online platforms will have an hour to remove terrorist content that has been referred by the EU.

It also sets out obligations “for online platforms and for national authorities to report on the amount of terrorist content removed, the measures used to identify and remove content, the outcomes of complaints and appeals, as well as the number and type of penalties imposed on online platforms”.

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