deep web henry jackson society

New report calls on UK Government to be tougher on online terrorism

A report from the Henry Jackson Society says British government must do more fight terrorists on the deep web

deep web henry jackson society
Credit: Wikicommons

An influential foreign policy think tank has called for the UK Government to take tougher action on online extremism, in a report published on Sunday.

The authors say that some “areas of the web”, including the deep web and the Darknet, “have become a safe haven for Islamic State to plot its next attack.”

The research published by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) suggests that the British government should create an “Internet Regulation Body” and increase funding to “build intelligence capital on the Darknet”.

The HJS report suggests that terrorists are using encrypted apps such as Telegram to communicate, drawing some sympathisers from social media sites into Darknet forums for recruitment and indoctrination, building propaganda reservoirs out of reach of governments and tech companies, and using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to fund terrorist activities.

The deep web is distinct from the surface web, which contains information available through familiar search engines like Google and Yahoo. It holds 400 times more information, provides users with greater anonymity, and is harder access. A tiny fraction of the deep web is comprised of the Darknet – a highly unregulated part of the internet where users enjoy optimum anonymity.

Content on the Darknet ranges from secret communication between human rights activists, to illicit drug and weapons markets, hitman services and extremist forums.

In a speech given in February, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that the 5 terror attacks which struck the UK in 2017, killing 57, had an “online component”, lamenting “remote radicalisation.”

The Manchester arena bomber was alleged to have used YouTube to learn bomb making, and the Home Office found that IS used more than 400 online platforms to spread propaganda in 2017.

A number of young Britons who have left to join IS in the Middle East are said to have been radicalised online.

Despite these apparent problems, the report is likely to draw criticism from some quarters.

Freedom House, an independent civil liberties watchdog released a report in 2015, describing internet surveillance in the UK as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable.”

That same year, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal said publicly that the UK intelligence agency had been illegally collecting bulk data for 17 years. An EU court also declared that the UK’s data retention rules imposed on internet providers “cannot be justified” within a democracy.

Despite the criticism, the government passed the Investigatory Powers Act – otherwise known as the Snoopers Charter – in 2016. The legislation authorised bulk surveillance in the UK and was described by The United Nations special rapporteur on privacy as “disproportionate”.

This trend of increasing surveillance appears likely to continue, raising concerns over free speech.

Around 27% of the World’s internet users live in countries where arrests have been made, of people publishing, sharing and even “liking” Facebook content. Freedom House said in 2017 that internet freedom is declining globally for the 7th consecutive year.

British Prime Minister Theresa May

May: UK will ‘rip up human rights laws’ to tackle terrorism

British Prime Minister Theresa May says human rights laws will be changed “if they get in the way” of the country’s fight against terror.
British Prime Minister Theresa May human rights
British Prime Minister Theresa May

In the aftermath of the London Bridge terrorist attack that left eight dead, May said she would seek to introduce longer prison terms for those convicted of terrorist offenses and make it easier to “deport foreign terrorist suspects.”

The British PM has previously called for closer regulation of the Internet to tackle extremism, and criticized social media firms for not doing enough to police their platforms.

According to CNN, “British security services already possess wide anti-terrorism powers that have been denounced by Amnesty International as among ‘the most draconian’ in Europe.”

However, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has said Britain’s human rights law does not prevent the successful capture and prosecution of terrorists, warning that hard-won freedoms should not be traded unnecessarily.

Starmer – a former director of public prosecutions who oversaw numerous terror cases – considered May to be misguided when focusing on human rights law rather than police cuts.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer human rights
Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer

May has been facing significant pressure over her record as Home Secretary, as well as questions over intelligence failures following terror attacks earlier this month in the London and Manchester.

The Independent reported that Starmer was not in favour of Britain introducing that state of emergency – similar to that in France – which has allowed the state new powers of detention for terror suspects and potential associates.

May could also attempt to increase the period for which terror suspects can be held without trial – currently 14 days – a move that proved unpopular with civil liberties campaigners when Tony Blair attempted it after the July 7th 2005 attacks.

One of the most vocal opponents to the change at the time was David Davis, now the Brexit secretary.

In the past, May has called for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and replace its human rights protections with a British “bill of rights.”

In the lead up to the snap general election, the Conservatives have promised not to withdraw from the ECHR during the next Parliament but they could begin to try to replace or amend parts of the Human Rights Act after Brexit.

Before becoming Prime Minister last summer, May spent six years as Britain’s home secretary, meaning she was responsible for law and order, immigration and security in England and Wales.

French Police Security Terrorism

Combatting home-grown terrorism in Europe: a case for improved police integration

French Police Security Terrorism
French police at Place de la République, Paris.
After the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to point fingers: “despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, Belgium could not establish any links with terrorism.”

Indeed, previous warnings regarding the identities of those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks had been ignored, and local and regional police networks failed to prevent the catastrophe. The attacks show that the EU needs to focus on a more integrated internal security.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, many were quick to point the finger at Brussels. However, Belgium has not been sufficiently supported by its EU counterparts. While the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek was home to the planners of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, and although the district’s police department had been suffering from its more than 185 unfilled positions, the terrorists were able to cross the national borders of the Schengen area unchecked. Moreover, they held EU passports, and travelled from Syria into the EU.

This is not a Belgian problem, but a Europe-wide one.

Europol has already moved towards a more integrated approach by establishing a joint information database known as ICT (Information Communication Technology). This is an advanced and secure system intended for cross-border cooperation and it has been effective in tracking and sharing information regarding terrorists, across member states.

Despite its existence, however, a large number of member states are not connected to the Europol database.

Cross-border terror networks such as Daesh and Boko Haram have managed to bypass police in various EU countries

While Europol has determined that 5,000 EU citizens have travelled to conflict zones in Iraq and Syria, only 2,786 foreign fighters have been recorded. The information sharing mechanism is in place, but it is not being efficiently used by all member states.

The EU needs to shift its focus, but Federica Mogherini is neglecting the internal dimension of security. The current focus is peacekeeping missions in Europe, yet police in EU municipalities still lack ‘boots on the ground’ – as well as the required training – to implement the Global Strategy within EU borders.

Moreover, despite having some of the most well developed de-radicalisation programmes in the world, such EU projects have not been translated into resource allocation at the local level.

Now, more than ever, there is a need for a common EU policing agency and information exchange system. Cross-border terror networks such as Daesh and Boko Haram have managed to bypass police in various EU countries, and have grown their web of connections quickly and easily. Regional police networks are disconnected, and limited in their ability to communicate amongst themselves and with other EU states.

Police Belgium Terrorism
Police at a demonstration staged by Stop Islamisation of Europe in Brussels, Belgium.

The EU has successfully rolled out framework for comprehensive police networks before. Operation Archimedes is one success story, set up by Europol in 2014. Over the course of one week, over 20,000 police officers cooperated to create the largest cross-border joint police operation in the EU ever, with all 28 member states involved.

Nevertheless, a key obstacle to such implementation is that information sharing amongst police agencies differs from country to country. While joint intelligence exercises, such as the European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), are used as a base for police intelligence sharing, they do not take into account differences in police legislation amongst member states.

Single states cannot solve these issues alone. Europol’s existing ICT and EMPACT systems, supported by the success of Archimedes, can foster investment by member states in order to dissolve administrative and legal boundaries.

This in turn will ensure more efficient and productive police networks that share common goals, regulations, unions, and technology.

A set of shared objectives will increase communication and productivity, thereby building bridges for functioning and innovative police networks.

Ultimately, this common police system will create a dependency that fosters stronger diplomacy. It is the future for both national and European security.

Katharine Klacansky and Margaret Goydych

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