Government ministers from European states, who met in Paris today in the wake of the atrocious attacks that stunned the French capital's population last week, have called on internet firms to do a better job of cooperating with spooks and police to help them fight terrorism.
In a joint statement (PDF) from a number of Europe's interior ministers including France's Bernard Cazeneuve and Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May, the politicians said:
We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law.
With this in mind, the partnership of the major internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.
The missive followed a march attended, not only by the politicos, but also by millions of French citizens in a show of democratic defiance against the terrorist acts, which started at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo when 12 people were murdered last Wednesday. It was signed in the presence of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
But privacy warriors were quick to hit out at the proposals on Sunday.
3m people march in Paris for freedom of expression, and 13 govts announce plans for Internet censorship without due process #CharlieDoesSurf— Caspar Bowden (@CasparBowden) January 11, 2015
Tory MP and former Secretary of State for Defence Dr Liam Fox, meanwhile, took to the pages of the Sunday Telegraph today to lobby for more powers for the UK's spies. He argued:
In 1993, there were only 130 websites in the world. By the end of 2012 there were 654 million – a lot of haystacks in which terrorist needles can hide.
That is why our security services need to be given access to the data they require to help to keep us safe. It is also why the appalling misjudgement of those such as the Guardian newspaper in helping Edward Snowden, now residing with the Russian secret service in Moscow, is so unforgivable.
When Snowden took data to China and Russia, some 58,000 files came from GCHQ, information that had played a vital role in preventing terrorism in Britain over the past decade.
Separately, the U.S. administration confirmed it would convene a meeting on 18 February to discuss tackling the global fight against Islamic extremism.
The take-away from politicians on both sides of the pond today, once you set aside the posturing about freedom of expression: demands for greater surveillance of citizens' movements online are back on the agenda in a big way. ®