Comms industry must filter "extremist content", says new report.

News by Max Metzger

A new home office report says that the front line battle against extremism will be online. But what counts as extremism?

The UK Home Office has called for communications providers, including internet service providers, to filter ‘extremist' content. The government's new “counter-extremism strategy” details how it might “contest the online space”  that appears to be playing a significant role in sowing the seeds of extremism in British society.  

The strategy reads, “extremist groups continue to use the internet to inspire radicalisers, who seek to groom new recruits through online peer-to-peer relationships.” The Home Office claims it is already “working in partnership with industry and the police to remove terrorist and extremist material.” Police removal requests have increased from 60 items a month five years ago to 4,000 a month in 2015.

A Home Office spokesperson spoke to saying that it has seen greater co-operation from the communications industry: “We have already disrupted terrorist groups and their supporters online - since 2010 industry has voluntarily removed over 110,000 pieces of terrorist-related content, in breach of their own terms and conditions, via referrals from the police.”

However, the Home Office wants to build on this success and double down on these partnerships to limit access to extremist content, citing the success the office has had with removing pornographic content featuring children and under-age participants. Specifically, the strategy calls for the creation of an industry group to help police online extremism as well as more filtering by internet service providers. The strategy says “we now look to them to step up their response to protect their users from online extremism.”

The strategy calls out the the Islamic State (IS)  as one particular group that has pioneered the use of the internet to recruit and radicalise. The online presence of groups like IS has been a global source of concern for governments. It was only last week that Norse, a cyber-security company, claimed to uncover a trend of eastern european hacker groups increasingly sharing tools and training with extremist middle-eastern groups.

India has ‘banned' IS from the internet in that country and the US has taken steps to block certain radical Imams from spreading their ideas online, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has suggested she would like to see a ban on online platforms that spread radical, even non-violent, ideologies. 

What the government thinks of as extremism will likely include; incitement to terror; recruiting for the Islamic State, calls to carry out hate crimes; however the government idea of what ‘extremism' covers appears to be far broader. In 2014, Baroness Jenny Jones, a peer for the Green Party, found out that she was on a domestic extremist database. The database collects the identities of campaigners, even non-violent ones, to better police demonstrations that may get out of hand.

Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, a group that campaigns for civil liberties, speaking to, said: "Until there is a tighter definition on what constitutes extremism then potentially the solution they aim to provide could impact on anyone who expresses a view (that the security services don't like)". Samson added that:  "Without clarity, there will be a large number of campaigner (and) commentators,” who find themselves on guard because of broad definitions like the ones that the strategy puts forward.

A Home Office spokesperson told SC that: “We will not restrict anyone's freedom of speech or right to practise a faith. These are core values that help to make our country great.” But, the spokesperson added: “We shouldn't allow the extremist voice to go unchallenged, causing harm to our society and promoting hatred and division.”

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