February 20, 2015 / 12:15 AM / 4 years ago

French minister visits U.S. Internet firms about militants' messaging

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - France’s chief internal security official is traveling to California’s Silicon Valley to discuss his government’s concerns about violent jihadist social media messaging with leading tech and Internet companies.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve speaks at the Ministerial meeting on Foreign Fighters during the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department in Washington February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told a Washington news conference on Thursday that “all the Internet operators were welcoming me,” including Twitter Inc, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp and Facebook Inc.

He said that when meeting with the companies on Friday, he would discuss several issues related to the use of social media by groups such as Islamic State, including the companies’ own “codes of conduct” as well as strategies for using social media to counter violent messaging by militants.

He said that under a new French law, the government has the authority to “block” the posting of content which it considers dangerous. A French official said that a law granting the government powers to do this was passed by the French parliament late last year, and that regulations to implement it were issued ten days ago.

Cazaneuve said, however, that he expected that French authorities would not have to use their powers to ban particular message traffic often. “We think the companies will do it,” he said.

The companies did not have immediate comment.

Cazaneuve noted the French were strong proponents of freedom of speech and that the condemnation of the recent deadly shooting attack by two gunmen at the offices of satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, which had published cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, demonstrated how highly France values free expression.

Earlier, in a speech to an international summit meeting on “countering violent extremism” hosted by the administration of President Barack Obama, Cazeneuve said that in recent years, the “profile of terrorists and potential terrorists has changed.”

He said many had “become radicalized over the Internet,” and others shifted from “crime to terrorism after serving time in prison or after contact with hardline Islamists.”

He said that even though France last April introduced new “preventive actions” to curb travel by would-be foreign fighters to conflict areas, French authorities now believe “more than 400” French citizens are now in Iraq and Syria. He said about 1,400 French citizens are involved “in one way or another” with networks of foreign fighters.

Cazeneuve said Europe would increase travel controls, including creation of a “passenger name record” tracking system and tightening travel controls within the presently borderless “Schengen” area of the European Union, as part of efforts to curb travel by foreign fighters. 

He said this would “require strengthening controls at EU borders, notably for European nationals.”

Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Ken Wills

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