A Labour MP is calling for updated legislation and greater international co-operation to make it easier for police to track and trace terrorist recruiters, animal rights extremists and other criminals on the net. Margaret Moran MP, chair of all-party Parliament Industry group EURIM, said that the police "urgently" need resources to find extremists who "use the internet to ensnare those who are alienated from society and turn them from sympathisers into enthusiasts and then fanatics".
Moran said Peter Taylor's recent BBC documentary on the New Al Qaeda illustrated the "urgency" of the need to help police to fight terrorist organisers on the net. The first part of the three part documentary - subtitled Jihad.com - argued that media-savvy cyberjihadis are manipulating the internet for training, recruitment and propaganda. In contrast with El Reg's view that there "probably is a worthwhile programme to be made about the internet's impact on terrorism, but this isn't it", Moran was obviously quite taken by the programme.
"It was apt that the programme was followed by 'The Siege of Darley Oaks Farm' because the Animal Rights activists and other extremist groups are known to use similar techniques, as do paedophile rings similarly seeking to attract and 'groom' their victims. Meanwhile reputable service providers are often frustrated by their inability to co-operate effectively with the police in tracking and tracing illegal traffic across boundaries," she said.
"We urgently need to update and strengthen the penalties under the Computer Misuse and Data Protection Acts, to enable the cross-border co-operation routines for extraditable offences to be used to help track and trace illegal traffic, including those who access files of personal data to help identify victims for targeted acts of terror as well as of fraud."
Moran reckons a lack of police powers is hindering efforts to trace criminals and terrorists. But tracking people on the net once they know what they're looking for seldom seems to be a problem for police in practice. Getting the raw intelligence so that you know who to watch is the real challenge and one that Moran's recommendations don't really address. Rather than creating a climate that encourages service providers to blithely comply with police requests to conduct fishing expeditions it might be better to put more resources into human intelligence. We're inclined to agree with Bruce Schneier that broader surveillance is unlikely to prevent terrorism.
EURIM has conducted a two year study on cybercrime and is now lobbying for support to turn its recommendations, some of which are geared towards helping police to tap into an extra pool of skilled IT workers, into action.
"We also need to provide effective frameworks to enable the police to use the skills and resources of those who run the internet to help identity and record what is happening, when it is happening. This raises serious issues of accountability as well as the need for common training and protocols but some form of routine to enable computer experts to be used as 'limited warrant specialist constables' or 'community support officers', as in done in the United States, appears long overdue," Moran added. ®