x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 November 2017

Tech giants must do more to report terrorists to police, UK counterterror officer warns

Companies such as Facebook and YouTube must report users who share extremist material online to police straight away

Salman Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber who killed 22 people during a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande, accessed extremist content online. Facebook/ AFP Photo
Salman Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber who killed 22 people during a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande, accessed extremist content online. Facebook/ AFP Photo

Technology firms must do more to alert authorities about users who download bomb-making instructions and share terrorist material on their websites, a senior counterterror official in the UK has warned.

Five terror attacks have taken place in Britain so far in 2017, prompting pressure on companies such as Facebook and YouTube to do more to remove extremist content online.

Senior national coordinator for counterterrorism Neil Basu said that while tech giants had become more adept at removing online propaganda from jihadist groups such as ISIL, there was often a time delay in reporting offending users to police.

“With all their capabilities they ought to be able to come up with a system that says, ‘I have just removed something that’s horribly violent, and here’s the IP address of the person who posted it.’ I don’t understand why that isn’t possible,” he told The Times newspaper.

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The terrorists involved in the Manchester bombing and the London Bridge attack are now known to have accessed extremist material online before they carried out their deadly crimes.

Mr Basu, who is also deputy assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, said tech companies were waking up to the problem of online radicalisation.

“I think the attacks of this summer have opened a lot of senior people’s eyes to the problem they will have if they are seen, rightly or wrongly, as companies who are promoting this and somehow stopping law enforcement doing their job,” he added.

Mr Basu said technology firms must then inform authorities “straight away” as soon as such material is removed.

Last week, Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd during a trip to Washington DC said social media companies and terrorists were in an “online arms race”.

She called for sites to use Artificial Intelligence to take down offending content as soon as it appeared online as well as repeating a call made by the UK, France and Italy for terrorist material to be removed within one to two hours of being published.