Today's deadly attack at Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo is an attack on freedom of expression and on freedom of the press, core values of our own democracy. Such acts of terrorism are not the answer and cannot be accepted, even when such expression takes the form of controversial cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad, repeatedly published in the last months by the French satirical newspaper.
This unprecedented attack comes about a month after the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) released a propaganda video calling on Muslims in France to carry out attacks there. While it is still unclear who was actually behind this episode, it cannot be ruled out that some local "Islamic fighters" could have decided to take up that call in their own hands.
Today's deadly attack shows one more time that terrorism is an actual threat and that, in order to protect, monitor and prevent such attacks, Western nations must deploy sophisticated technologies and cooperate with each other. It is probably true that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is making a big mistake by spying on millions of people without compelling reasons -- but a bigger mistake would be to pursue a zero surveillance state. Smart intelligence and data gathering are necessary steps in a world so shaky and still marked by wars and conflicts.
As repeatedly documented, terror groups take full advantage of the Internet and modern communication technologies. While "loose" or potential IS sympathizers can easily access their propaganda material circulating on mainstream media or TV outlets, more often than not Internet is the preferred channel for the following step -- to get in touch and/or even join those terror groups -- by reading their blog posts or social network feeds, downloading files and other original content.
In his recent pivotal book, @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, Shane Harris (Senior Correspondent at The Daily Beast reporter and former Foreign Policy contributor), details the importance of having access to the most advanced technologies to win today's wars or to protect a country's interests.
However, Europe as a whole lags well behind the US in its approach to cyber-security and, despite their recent efforts, EU countries provide an uneven framework. While Germany and France have great intelligence and communication control infrastructures, other countries (i.e., Greece) allocate a very low-budget to such issues and still others lack basic technological knowledge -- thus exposing a deeper cultural problem, whereas cyber-security is clearly not on their priority list.
As explained by cyber-security expert Stefano Mele, EU countries are currently drafting a document to pinpoint such issues and how to properly address them in regards to public policies and military involvement -- the so-called EU Cyber Defence Policy Framework. This is an initial step to improve communication security, provide local training and increase International cooperation to advance both defense and offensive strategies for each country and the entire EU as well. Needless to say, such documents drafted must then be applied on the ground in order to make a difference, something easier said than done.
It is also worth noting that such collaborative efforts are in danger of being compromised by the lasting effects of last year's NSA revelations. Many are indeed worried by the on-going tension between Germany and the US, as exposed again by Der Spiegel last week and the recent revelation about British surveillance operations against Belgium's largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom.
One thing is certain, though: if many people will still believe that we only need protection from the NSA, we may be stuck, forced to deal with the aftermath of more terror attacks at any level. Maybe broader cooperation and funding efforts could not prevent such tragic events such as today's attack in Paris, but in many other instances they will surely have an actual impact. Prevention is key, and sometime select surveillance strategies are needed -- it is a small price to pay to be better safe than sorry.