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UK PM May's response to London terror attack: Time to 'regulate' internet companies

Internet offers terrorist hatemongers 'safe space to breed' says PM

British prime minister Theresa May's statement in response to the terror attacks that saw seven people murdered in London on Saturday night has again called for internet companies to make life harder for those who would discuss hateful and violent ideologies.

May's statement calls for four changes in the way the UK combats terror.

“We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are,” the PM said, “and they need to change in four important ways.”

May's first suggestion is turning minds away from violence so that the populace “understand that our values – pluralistic, British values – are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.”

The second concerns the internet, as follows:

Second, we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet – and the big companies that provide internet-based services – provide. We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.

May's third point is to rob terrorists of “safe spaces” in the real world. The PM said doing so will require military action in ISIS-controlled territory and for the UK to become “far more robust in identifying it and stamping it [terrorism] out”, through “difficult and often embarrassing conversations” that unify the British community.

Her fourth point again suggests new laws controlling internet communications, as follows:

Fourth, we have a robust counter-terrorism strategy that has proved successful over many years. But as the nature of the threat we face becomes more complex, more fragmented, more hidden, especially online, the strategy needs to keep up. So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.

May's statement is consistent with her recent speech calling for major internet companies to “... develop tools to identify and remove this harmful material automatically” and to “report this vile content to the authorities and block the users who spread it.”

It also hints at encryption-circumventing powers to add to those in 2016's Investigatory Powers Act. May's call for international regulation may be a reference to the European Commission's plans to allow access to data stored in the cloud by encrypted apps. The UK Parliament's Home Affairs Committee has called for social media sites to be fined if they do not remove hate speech within stipulated timeframes. ®

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