Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to join you today at the 9th meeting of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact.
As we start 2023, this meeting is an important opportunity to take stock of the evolving terrorism threat and the use of data in counter-terrorism responses.
In today’s digital world it is vital that we develop robust evidence-based and data-centric responses to tackle the plague of terrorism.
As technology has advanced, so too have the weapons and tools available to terrorist organisations.
Social media, smartphones, and encrypted messaging have made it easier for terrorist groups to spread their propaganda, find new recruits and conceal their tracks online.
Terrorist groups have also diversified their financing models through cybercurrencies and online black markets in the dark web, concealed and hidden from the authorities.
The COVID-19 pandemic compounded these challenges.
By pushing our lives much more substantially into the online sphere, the pandemic left many people more isolated and vulnerable to violent extremist content online, particularly children and youth, women and those who are marginalized.
In 2021 alone, global terrorist and violent extremist groups were reported to be operating 198 websites, averaging 1.54 million visits per month across 33 sampled sites.
While some form of normalcy has now returned as we recover from the pandemic, the Internet remains a vast treasure trove of evidence, data and information relevant for counter-terrorism investigations.
Law enforcement and criminal justice officials need the technical tools to access these data sources, in order to effectively assess national risks and respond to evolving threats.
This requires an effective allocation of resources and capacity-building to provide Member States with the necessary tools.
By enabling access on an unprecedented level, big data analytics and biometrics, as well as artificial intelligence, have become powerful tools in collecting data, analysing patterns, and facilitating counter-terrorism investigations.
These tools are a double-edged sword, however, and we must remain vigilant in their use.
Such wide-ranging reach brings with it an important responsibility to protect ordinary citizens’ privacy from the risk of unlawful surveillance, exploitation, and discrimination.
In line with a report on the right to privacy by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, we must be wary of potential biases in these systems. In addition, the software behind the algorithms used to police online extremism is too often developed without sufficient consideration for the protection of human rights and privacy.
These tools and responses must therefore be strongly rooted in international human rights law, including the principles of necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination, as prescribed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is committed to building normative frameworks and strengthening criminal justice responses to terrorism, in line with international norms and human rights.
Last year, I was pleased to launch the new UNODC Global Programme on Counter-Terrorism 2022-2027.
This programme, guided by the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy and UNODC Strategy, places prevention and the protection of human rights at the forefront of our efforts, including prevention of terrorists’ use of new technologies.
By adopting a people-centred approach and coordinating closely with civil society, other UN entities and the private sector, we are better placed to address the challenges posed by emerging technologies, including their use by terrorist groups.
UNODC is also building stronger public-private partnerships, working with Member States and service providers such as Facebook, Google and TikTok.
In collaboration with the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and the International Association of Prosecutors, UNODC produced tools and guidance on requesting electronic evidence across borders, to assist States in addressing the challenges related to preserving, requesting and obtaining electronic evidence.
We also developed tools to provide smaller technology companies with the ability to respond quickly and lawfully to requests for electronic evidence in counter-terrorism investigations.
Such initiatives have a global reach, with national and regional training on handling of electronic evidence and online investigations conducted for countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific.
There is still work to be done, however.
We need to strengthen legal frameworks and build the capacity of investigators to lawfully and efficiently collect and preserve electronic evidence related to terrorism.
We need strong prosecution and judicial systems to ensure they can use this data as evidence in court.
And we need to enable relevant authorities to collect, store, and share data across borders and jurisdictions, without jeopardizing its admissibility or value in court.
It is vital that we do so in a manner that meets key international data protection obligations.
This includes obtaining personal information fairly and lawfully; strictly limiting the scope of information use to its intended purpose; and granting individuals the right to access their information and request corrections.
Only then can we ensure an effective and human rights-compliant data-centric response to terrorism.
Guided by the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the Secretary-General’s Data Strategy, and in close coordination with the Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Global Compact entities, UNODC is uniquely placed to provide assistance to Member States to ensure strong responses to terrorism that meet international obligations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am hopeful that we are on the right track.
Last year’s adoption of the Delhi Declaration by the Counter-Terrorism Committee was a welcome step in developing a shared understanding on the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes.
The Declaration provided key recommendations and guiding principles to assist Member States to counter the terrorist exploitation of information and communications technology and digital terrorism.
Let us now build on this momentum ahead of the 8th biennial review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in June 2023, so that we may bolster our resolve in the fight against terrorism and stay ahead of emerging threats.
Thank you and wishing you all a peaceful happy New Year.