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US officials to meet tech firms about countering Islamic State

Discussions will cover ways of making it more difficult for extremist groups to use online services to further their aims

White House, US intelligence and law enforcement officials will today meet executives of top US technology firms to discuss ways of countering terrorist and extremist groups online.

The meeting in San Jose, California will focus on finding ways to clamp down on the use of social media by Islamic State (IS) and similar groups, according to Reuters, which first reported on the meeting.

The role of social media as a tool for radicalisation and propaganda was highlighted by the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 and the 2 December shootings in San Bernardino.

US officials to attend the meeting include White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, presidential counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, attorney general Loretta Lynch, FBI director James Comey, national intelligence director James Clapper and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers.

Technology firms represented at the meeting are expected to include Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, LinkedIn and Twitter, which recently updated its policies to prohibit “hateful conduct” in line with similar moves by other social media firms in recent months.

According to an agenda obtained by the Guardian, the meeting will consider: how to make it more difficult for groups to use social media to recruit, radicalise and mobilise followers to violence; how to help others to create alternative content to undermine IS; finding ways to use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalisation to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure efforts to counter radicalisation to violence; and how to make it more difficult to use the internet to mobilise, facilitate  and operationalise attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks.

In December 2015, US president Barack Obama said he would “urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice”.

Although the White House has not confirmed the meeting, according to US reports, a senior White House official said: “The administration has been clear about the importance of government and industry working together to confront terrorism.”

Tech firms have co-operated in taking down content capable of inciting violence or recruiting militants, but they are hesitant about being seen to be too co-operative with the government because of  concerns about regaining and retaining the trust of users of their services.

US tech firms have complained that the revelations about government internet surveillance by whistleblower Edward Snowden severely undermined trust in their online services.

Initial reports said that the meeting would focus on social media and not encryption, but the agenda indicates that the topic is likely to be discussed.

The second point on the agenda reads: “Unclassified background on terrorist use of technology, including encryption.”

Encryption has been a thorny topic, with most tech firms opting to provide encrypted services in an effort to win back user trust, and law enforcement and counter-terrorism officials in the US, UK and elsewhere in Europe insisting that encryption is making their jobs extremely difficult.

Security experts recently voiced strong support for the Dutch government’s view that strong encryption is essential for the country’s security.

The Netherlands will not follow the trend of weakening encryption for security purposes, according to a statement by Dutch security and justice minister Ard van der Steur, published in early January 2016.

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