The government has today launched a review of its controversial "Prevent" counter-terrorism strategy, which includes measures to tackle extremist material online.
The wide-ranging review could lead to greater censorship of the web.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said today: "I believe the Prevent programme isn't working as well as it could, and that is why we are reviewing it. I want a strategy that is effective and properly focused."
Recent high-profile crimes have again focused attention on how Islamic extremists use the internet to promote their violent ideology. The online preaching of the US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was cited by Roshonara Choudhry – the 21-year-old woman convicted last week of attempting to murder her MP, Stephen Timms – as a radicalising influence.
Al-Awlaki, now based in Yemen, was also thought to be behind the foiled cargo bomb plot. YouTube last week took down dozens of his videos following pressure from British and American officials.
The review of Prevent will be overseen by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation.
He told The Register: "We will be looking at all aspects of Prevent, and that will include the internet."
The current version of the strategy, published in March last year, noted that while the Terrorism Act 2006 allows the police to order UK hosting companies to remove extremist material, it is powerless against foreign websites.
In an attempt to reduce availability, the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism, a secretive Home Office unit, produces lists of extremist URLs for desktop filtering programs to block. Such software is typically used by schools and universities.
The review of Prevent is now likely to consider renewed calls for an network-level filtering system, similar to that administered by the Internet Watch Foundation to make accessing child abuse material more difficult. Any such move would be strongly resisted by ISPs and civil liberties groups.
While in Opposition, the Conservative security minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, expressed an interest in applying such technology to counter-terrorism.
She asked the Labour government "why the Internet Watch Foundation's list enables internet service providers to block child sexual abuse images if they are hosted abroad but does not enable them to block websites hosted abroad promoting violent extremism and terrorism".
Lord Carlile today emphasised that no decisions had yet been taken.
The Home Office said "the use of the internet as a tool to communicate extremist messages overlaps the key areas that are being reviewed".
The renewed Prevent strategy will be published in the new year. ®