21 April 2020 - With the rapid expansion of internet and social media use, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has remained committed to providing criminal justice officials with the tools and knowledge they need to tackle challenges associated with electronic evidence and terrorist use of the Internet. Issues related to the preservation, collection and utilization of essential electronic evidence in terrorist cases have become even more critical as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the virus continues to spread globally, new terrorist threats emerge. Far-right networks are reported to be preparing to take advantage of the possibility of social disorder. Groups affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Da’esh (ISIL) continue to use media platforms such as Telegram to incite the commission of offences by supporters in countries distracted by COVID-19, framing the pandemic as a divine reinforcement of their struggles.
The evolving situation has become a hindrance to many legislative and capacity-building activities worldwide. A combination of travel restrictions and nationwide lockdowns have placed additional reliance onto online knowledge-sharing and technical assistance tools. UNODC is well-equipped to respond to these unprecedented circumstances, through the implementation of interactive approaches designed to ensure the continued delivery of tailored technical assistance. One such strategy is the deployment of the UNODC Counter-Terrorism Learning Platform (CTLP).
Masood Karimipour, Chief of the UNODC Terrorism Prevention Branch (UNODC/TPB), noted that UNODC embraces a move to online delivery of capacity-building and technical assistance: “Our interactive e-learning courses, global network of experts and virtual convening authority have continuously supported face-to-face activities. Now, in this unprecedented environment, online-conferencing and peer-to-peer platforms such as the CTLP will take the lead, but the experience and subject matter expertise of UNODC remains the same. However, we are still focused on the emerging threats this unique situation presents.”
Mr. Karimipour said that increased internet usage and recent attempts by terrorist groups to spread fear and incite the commission of offences shows that UNODC’s work in the areas of electronic evidence and harmful online content remain essential.
The CTLP is a tool that allows the delivery of numerous online legislative and technical assistance activities in multiple languages – ranging from one-hour webinars to multi-week online courses – to a global audience of practitioners.
To ensure the sustainability of training courses, as well as to address emerging global threats, a new online space was inaugurated on the platform specifically dedicated to electronic evidence matters. This area will act as a ‘one stop shop’ for technical assistance delivery, sharing of best practices, stocktaking and development of new tools on electronic evidence. This online space will work as a secure interactive room, called the “iRoom”, developed to create an accessible learning platform for prosecutors, investigators and the judiciary in cross-border terrorism and organized crime cases involving electronic evidence.
On 21 April 2020, in the framework of projects in Sri Lanka and the Maldives generously funded by the European Union and jointly implemented with INTERPOL, UNODC convened the first online meeting on the newly established iRoom.
Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission's Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), said that “People across the globe are joining forces to save lives and livelihoods. We cannot allow this situation to be exploited to stoke hatred and fear. The EU stands for solidarity in adversity. Through this project with UNODC and its partners, we make new tools available to exchange best practices in the fight against terrorism.”
In close collaboration with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the event brought together subject matter experts to seek inputs on a draft training module based on the Practical Guide for Requesting Electronic Evidence Across Borders, jointly drafted by UNODC, the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP).
Last year the OSCE facilitated the translation and printing of the Practical Guide into Russian language. Ambassador Alena Kupchyna, OSCE Co-ordinator to address Transnational Threats said that the OSCE participating States commended the guide and how it provides practitioners with the necessary skills and methods to handle the critical electronic evidence needed to prevent, investigate and bring to justice those who seek to undermine the rule of law. “Building on this successful achievement, we are keen to continue our fruitful cooperation with UNODC and other international partners to support law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, and judiciary in developing long-term, sustainable, and human-rights complaint approaches in handling electronic evidence,” she added.
Through the iRoom, key representatives of 13 regional and international organizations and high-level delegates of law enforcement/criminal justice training academies and institutions from 13 countries were connected and further conceptualized the new training module.