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Increased action by social media firms is having an impact on groups such as Islamic State, but home secretary Amber Rudd is reportedly in the US calling for even more action.
Since the beginning of 2017, violent militant operatives have created 40,000 new internet destinations, Rudd told the New America think tank in Washington.
Government authorities and companies are working to remove content promoting violence within two hours, she said, but added that social media firms should be aiming for a faster, more proactive approach.
Rudd is in Washington for another round of meetings with social media firms to push for increased efforts to remove extremist content from their platforms and tackling online child grooming.
In March 2017, Rudd summoned WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft to a meeting in London to discuss ways to ensure that security officers get the data they need in the future.
According to Rudd, improvements have been made, with social media companies now taking down around two-thirds of violent militant material from their sites within two hours of its discovery, up from just half since previously.
Rudd said YouTube is now taking down 83% of violent militant videos discovered, and that UK authorities have “evidence” that Islamic State is “struggling” to get some of its content online.
However, she said there was “much more” companies could do to improve their response times even further, such as by harnessing AI and other emerging technologies.
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Although Rudd reiterated the message that the police and security agencies are in an “online arms race” with militants, she made no mention of encryption or the need for authorities to have backdoor access.
In the wake of the Westminster terror attack on 22 March 2017, Rudd began a controversial crusade against end-to-end encryption, but she appeared to back down after meeting representatives of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.
Rudd’s latest visit to Washington coincides with a warning by former MI5 head Jonathan Evans that cracking down on the use of online encryption could lead to more illicit hacking.
There is a strong public interest in ensuring individuals and businesses continue to have access to important cyber security technology such as encryption, he told ABC News.
“My personal view is that we should not be undermining the strength of cryptography across the whole of the cyber market. The cost of doing that would be very considerable,” said Evans, but added that tech firms have a responsibility to work with intelligence agencies.
“If you don’t have secure encryption, it makes it easier for the hackers. It means it’s easier to get into financial services, into people’s private emails, into their own messages when there isn’t lawful authorisation.”
Balancing interests of government and business
The Australian government is working on controversial legislation designed to force tech companies to hand over encrypted messages to prevent terrorism and solve crimes.
The legislation is believed to draw on the equally controversial Investigatory Powers Act passed by the UK government in December 2016.
According to ABC News, Evans was not commenting directly on the Australian government’s proposals, but said any politicians planning to tackle terrorists who used encryption methods needed to juggle the competing interests of government and government agencies with business’s need for cyber security.
On 7 November 2017, 10 human rights organisations began a legal challenge to the lawfulness of UK surveillance legislation and mass internet surveillance by UK intelligence agencies in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.
The case is expected to have wide-ranging implications for the Investigatory Powers Act, which introduced sweeping new powers, including the ability for the security agencies to hack computers and electronic devices on a large scale, allowing the large scale harvesting of data from people – the majority of which are not suspected of criminal behaviour.