Facebook, Twitter Helping Terrorists, Says British Spy Agency Chief

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    Sep 22, 2012
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    LONDON: Facebook, Twitter and other internet services have become "the command and control networks of choice" for terrorists and criminals, but the companies are "in denial", the new head of GCHQ has said.

    Isil terrorists in Syria and Iraq have "embraced the web" to intimidate enemies and inspire "would-be jihadis" from all over the world to join them, said Robert Hannigan.

    "GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age. But privacy has never been an absolute right and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions," he said.

    He urged US technology companies to work with the security services, arguing that it is time they confronted "some uncomfortable truths" and helped stop their services from being used to "facilitate murder or child abuse".

    He suggested that unless they cooperate, new laws will be needed to ensure that intelligence agencies can track and pursue terrorists.

    His comments are among the most outspoken yet by the security services. Tensions between them and technology companies have been growing since leaks by Edward Snowden, a former US security contractor turned whistle blower.

    In an article for the Financial Times, Mr Hannigan said: "I understand why they [US technology companies] have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics.

    "But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism. However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us."

    Mr Hannigan became director of GCHQ last month after a distinguished career as a senior diplomat.

    He was appointed to help bolster the public profile of the Government's communications interception agency and take a more active role in the debate about its work.

    He highlighted an eruption of extremist jihadi material online on websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp, and said that terrorists can now hide their identities using encryption that was once the preserve of nation states.

    He said that in the past, al-Qaeda and its terrorists have used the internet to distribute material anonymously or "meet in dark spaces".

    Isil, however, has taken a more direct approach, using social networks to promote their messages in a "language their peers understand". He highlighted videos in which they attack towns, fire weapons and detonate explosives, saying that they have a "self-conscious online gaming quality".

    Even their grotesque videos of beheadings highlight their sophistication. "This time the 'production values' were high and the videos stopped short of showing the actual beheading," he said.

    "They have realised that too much graphic violence can be counterproductive in their target audience and that by self-censoring they can stay just the right side of the rules of social media sites, capitalising on western freedom of expression."

    During the advance on Mosul in Iraq the jihadists were sending 40,000 tweets a day, he said.

    Their cause has been helped by Mr Snowden as they copy his high-level encryption, with some apps even advertised as "Snowden approved", he said: "There is no doubt that young foreign fighters have learned and benefited from the leaks of the past two years."

    Mr Hannigan said that families have "strong views" about the ethics of companies and do not expect the social networks they use to "facilitate murder or child abuse".

    In Britain, the Conservatives are pushing for a communications data Bill to give the security services greater access to internet communications. The move has been blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

    Mr Hannigan said: "For our part, intelligence agencies such as GCHQ need to enter the public debate about privacy. I think we have a good story to tell. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens.

    "It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence."

    US internet companies including Google, Facebook Twitter and Microsoft declined to comment.

    Facebook, Twitter Helping Terrorists, Says British Spy Agency Chief - The New Indian Express

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