Online terrorism

Amber Rudd, UK’s home secretary has said that internet and technology companies should be more aggressive in combating the spread of terrorism through online.

Amber Rudd, UK’s home secretary has said that internet and technology companies should be more aggressive in combating the spread of terrorism through online platforms.

She met with executives from companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter at a counter-terrorism forum in San Francisco.

Background

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a system employed by technology companies to ensure privacy to their customers. It is a method where only the communicating users can read the messages. Companies like Google, WhatsApp and Viber have provided E2EE. This has made it difficult for governments and agencies to counter terrorism. Law enforcement officials have said that E2EE makes it impossible for them to monitor terrorist networks and their communication.

The internet has become a strategic device for terrorists. It is used in radicalization and for communication within terror outfits. It has also become a weapon in cyber-attacks. As of 2016, 5,000 foreign fighters had reportedly travelled from Western Europe to Syria and Iraq to join terror groups.

Analysis

Various governments across the world have made countering online radicalization a top priority. In June 2017, UK and France announced a joint-terror initiative that promised to hold internet companies responsible for “fail to take action” against terrorist propaganda. On June 26, 2017, tech giants such as Facebook, Google's YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft announced the formation of a global working group to combine their efforts to remove terrorist content from their platforms.

However, E2EE remains a concern for the UK, according to Rudd. In an interview with the BBC she said, “We support its place in making sure that we have secure facilities in our daily lives. However, there is a problem in terms of the growth of end-to-end encryption. It’s a problem for the security services and for police who are not, under the normal way, under properly warranted paths, able to access that information.”

Rudd has also said that the government was open to introducing legislation to make sure tech companies take more ownership over the content uploaded on the internet. She said, “None of this material should be online. They need to take ownership over making sure it isn’t. Legislation is always an alternative. They have to make sure the material terrorists want to put up gets taken down or, even better, doesn’t go up in the first place.”

During the Summit, the participant companies released a statement noting, “We believe that the best approach to tackling online terrorism is to collaborate with each other and with others outside the private sector, including civil society and government. We look forward to further cooperation as we develop a joint strategic plan over time.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that with internet having become a vital tool in the propagation of terrorism, more countries will begin taking a hardline with online giants. Technology companies should strike a balance between ensuring privacy for customers and ensuring terrorism is kept in check. 

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