Jacqui's jihad on web extremism flops

Counter terror ambitions countered by reality


More than a year after Jacqui Smith gave a major speech on counter terrorism, in which she said she wanted jihadi literature removed from the web, the internet industry has seen scant sign of action from the government.

ISPA, the trade association that represents internet providers, told The Register it had received one "very informal" approach from officials following the speech. A spokesman said: "There have been no formal discussions and no contact at all during the back end of last year."

On January 17 2008, Smith told an international conference on radicalisation that material that "glorifies terrorism", made illegal under the Terrorism Act 2006, should be blocked. "Where there is illegal material on the net, I want it removed," she said.

Earlier that day she had told Radio 4's Today Programme: "We need to work with internet service providers, we need to actually use some of the lessons we've learned for example about how to protect children from paedophiles and grooming on the internet to inform the way in which we use it to prevent violent extremism and to tackle terrorism as well. We have a responsibility... to cut off the supply of those who want to look to violent extremism."

Her comments were widely interpreted as a signal that the government wanted to create arrangements for blocking extremist websites similar to the Internet Watch Foundation, which maintains a blocklist of websites hosting child abuse material. The Home Office officials that made the informal approch to ISPA following the speech indeed asked about the possibility of such technical measures to bar extremist websites.

Another senior internet industry source, independent of ISPA, reported similar Home Office enquiries early in 2008, followed by silence.

In a statement, the Home Office asserted it had taken significant action against web extremism. "The Home Secretary has made it clear that unlawful material should be removed from the internet and those that are vulnerable to violent extremist messages should be protected," it said.

"Following the Home Secretary's speech in January 2008, industry representatives attended a ministerial meeting to discuss ways to work together to tackle online radicalisation. As a result of these and ongoing discussions a growing number of filtering and parental control software products now provide an enhanced level of protection against material that promotes terrorism."

Acoording to a Home Office press release in November, the result of such liaison with the internet industry was that "web users now have the opportunity to download software allowing them to restrict access to websites".

In fact, major ISPs have long offered such parental control systems and they fall a long way short of Smith's stated aim that extremist websites should be "removed from the internet".

A Home Office spokesman said any suggestion that there has not been tangible action would be a misrepresentation. He declined to explain how optional filtering software, available from ISPs for several years, was a move towards Smith's stated ambition to "cut off the supply" of extremist material. ®

Update

After this story was published, ISPA sought to clarify its spokesman's comments with the following statement: "There was one formal approach directly following the Home Secretary's announcement last year. There have been informal discussions since, but none since the end of last year, although ISPA remains in contact with the Home Office."

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