Counter-terrorism chief discusses the role of technology in reporting extremism

The strategy of encouraging the public to report online terrorist material has been trialled for just over a year and is now being widened

The strategy of encouraging the public to report online terrorist material has been trialled for just over a year and due to the initiative's success, detective chief inspector Jayne Snelgrove, head of the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, says the government is now ready to market it to the general public.

If users see online material which contains terrorist content, they can report it through the Directgov website and remain anonymous, whereas previously they would have to go through their local police force.

Snelgrove says the technology behind the site is relatively straightforward, but hopes to implement advances such as digital fingerprinting - which works by mapping an image or video against a database to find a match against existing suspects - in the unit's investigative work.

"We have an individual case management system which is being developed and have been working with a software company for six months to see how we can use digital fingerprint work", she said in an interview with Computer Weekly.

But Snelgrove is clear that resources will be spent targeting sites that specifically provide tips to would-be terrorists or attempt to radicalise readers into extremism - rather than chasing inappropriate messages which could be open to interpretation, such as the notorious Robin Hood Airport tweet last year.

"My unit only goes into a chat room when we are referred to do so, and are only interested in [explicit] terrorist activities such as explaining how to make a bomb. We want to make sure only material that is contentious is removed," she said.

"Within this unit we only [take action against] material when the Crown Prosecution Service has told us we should. We only have 10 members of staff, so the priority is in protecting the public and stopping terrorists. It's certainly not in my unit's interest to trawl Twitter for comment. But people do need to make sure that when using internet they don't make threats that are unfounded,"

Snelgrove believes the move to encourage people to report terrorist content online is timely. "As the internet becomes part of everybody's daily life it is important we create avenues to help people report criminals and terrorists," she said.

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