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Terror, terror everywhere: Call the filter police, there's a madman (or two) in town gets radical on radicalisation. Again

Analysis The UK government routinely rips up its anti-extremism, counter-terror, extremism-terror, whatever strategy in favour of what Home Secretary Theresa May typically describes as an even tougher approach to thwart baddies who seek to do us harm.

On Monday morning, the latest Whitehall document, Counter-Extremism Strategy (PDF), landed with an entire section devoted to "Contesting the online space".

The Home Office – in its characteristically alarmist tone – points out in the freshly-published strategy that there has recently been a "remarkable shift" in the use of the internet by a broad church of extremists from IS (ISIL) to neo-Nazis.

To apparently combat this, the government said that it would "work with social media and communications providers to ensure extremists do not have open access to their platforms."

But the Home Office was fairly opaque about how it would achieve such a plan, beyond stating that "cooperation with industry has significantly improved in recent years," before claiming that 110,000 pieces of propaganda had been removed online since 2010, following police takedown requests.

At present, Scotland Yard said that their Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit wipes the web clean of 4,000 bits of terrorist and extremist material a month. The Home Office said it would learn from the strategy employed by the Internet Watch Foundation, which works to quickly remove illegal child sexual abuse images.

A group of internet businesses and members of the public will be assembled to "agree ways to limit access to terrorist and extremist content online without compromising the principle of an open internet."

In fact, a pointy stick has been sharpened and is being squarely waved in the faces of comms providers. One of the things on the Home Office's wish list is "greater use of filtering", for example. If you cast your mind back a few years ago to when Britain's big ISPs first caved to government pressure on smut filters, that decision was made by many in the industry to prevent regulatory meddling.

Now, though, ministers think that a heavy-handed approach with filters will help keep out the bad guys. On top of that, the Home Office has stated:

Communications service providers have a critical role in tackling extremist content online. We have seen the considerable progress they have made in tackling online Child Sexual Exploitation.

We now look to them to step up their response to protect their users from online extremism ...

We need industry to strengthen their terms and conditions, to ensure fewer pieces of extremist material appear online, and that any such material is taken down quickly.

Internet industry lobby group ISPA said in response to the strategy that its members already worked closely with the Met's counter-terror unit to remove extremist content. But it expressed concern about the vagueness of the government's plans to overcome radicalisation online, saying:

The area of radicalisation is a complex one and industry must not be put in the position of determining the legality of content or what constitutes extremism. It is for Parliament and the courts to determine what is illegal and what action should be taken, not private companies.

Today’s strategy seems to suggest a number of new policy measures to tackle radicalisation online yet little detail is provided. ISPA will be working with members to seek clarification from government as to what this will mean in practice and the likely effectiveness of these policies.

Whether Brit ISPs like it or not, May is once again turning to them to sweep the baddies under the carpet. ®

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