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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Tech giants warned to take down extremist posts more quickly

Online terror material has ‘most effect’ in the first couple of hours, according to the EU security chief

EU security commissioner, Sir Julian King, said that even though many extremist posts are removed, hundreds of thousands still remain online. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET
EU security commissioner, Sir Julian King, said that even though many extremist posts are removed, hundreds of thousands still remain online. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

Tech giants have been warned to take down extremist content more quickly if they want to avoid a regulatory crackdown.

The warning came from Sir Julian King, the EU security commissioner, who said that even though many extremist posts are removed, hundreds of thousands still remain online.

Speaking to Sky News, Sir Julian said: "I hope that we're going to be able to make progress, we are taking down tens of thousands of such material but there are hundreds of thousands out there, if not more.

"It gets taken down quite quickly but all the studies show that it's in the first couple of hours where it has its most effect.

"So what we've said is that we want to see those companies using all of their technical expertise - automatic, automated means- to spot and take down stuff very quickly if not stopping it being uploaded in the first place.

"In the Commission we've said we're going to review the situation early next year and we reserve the right to look at legislation and regulation if we are not making the progress we need to make."

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The comments were made on the sidelines of a meeting of EU representatives at the UK National Cybersecurity Centre, which is part of GCHQ.

The British government has repeatedly criticised Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and other social media sites for not doing enough to disrupt or take down extremist content. Senior officials said that they also wanted access to encrypted information.

UK home secretary Amber Rudd recently said the maximum jail term for people who repeatedly view terrorist propaganda online would increase from ten years to 15.

It is currently illegal to download or store images but the British government also plans to make it illegal to repeatedly view footage such as ISIL videos or instructions on how to make bombs.

The proposals emerged from a review launched after Britain was hit by four attacks by militants that left 36 people dead this year, carried out by radicalised Britons.

They included a suicide bombing at a Manchester concert venue, and attacks on two London bridges by militants who mowed down pedestrians in vehicles before stabbing further victims.

Sir Julian insisted that cybersecurity co-operation between the UK and the EU was critical and would continue, whatever the outcome of the Brexit talks.

"Whatever else happens in those discussions, both sides, both the EU 27 and the UK government have said very clearly that co-operation on security matters should be unconditional, that is fighting terrorism, fighting cyber threats and serious and organised crime because these are clearly shared threats, they are best met by working together,” he told Sky News.

"It doesn't matter how good you are at dealing with these threats you are still stronger if you do it with partners and I think that shared objective is clearly acknowledged now by all those involved in this process."

The threat of cyberattacks was also raised, following successful interference in the US and German democratic processes.

Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the NCSC, told Sky News that Britain has, so far, proved more resilient.

“We've yet to see any successful outside interference in any UK election.

"Of course, cyber intrusions can take place for a variety of reasons and you can't always tell - if a hostile state has intruded into a particular network - what the purpose of that intrusion was.

"So I can never categorically say that there hasn't been an attempt on UK electoral process. What I can say is there hasn't been a successful attempt to date.

"Clearly, given what's happening internationally, it's a concern and one that on the top of our priority list."

Russia was pinpointed as the key concern for threats to the electoral systems, but Mr Martin also identified Iran, North Korea and China as risks.

Earlier this month, British media reported that a cyberattack on the UK’s Parliament, which affected dozens of senior politicians including Prime Minister Theresa May, was carried out by Iran.

Initially it was thought that Russia or North Korea might have been the culprit but according to the media reports, investigators have now traced the attack – which took place in June – to the Tehran regime.