A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the "psychological torture" he endured in
Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student
had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.
The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a "prevent agenda" against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become
Sabir was arrested on May 14 after the document was found by a university staff member on an administrator's computer. The administrator, Hisham Yezza, an acquaintance of Sabir, had been asked by the student to print the 1,500-page document
because Sabir could not afford the printing fees. The pair were arrested under the Terrorism Act, Sabir's family home was searched and their computer and mobile phones seized. They were released uncharged six days later but Yezza, who is
Algerian, was immediately rearrested on unrelated immigration charges and now faces deportation.
Dr Alf Nilsen, a research fellow at the university's school of politics and international relations, said that Yezza is being held at Colnbrook immigration removal centre, due to be deported on Tuesday.
Of his detention, Sabir said: I was absolutely broken. I didn't sleep. I'd close my eyes then hear the keys clanking and I would be up again. As I realised the severity I thought I'd end up in Belmarsh with the nutcases. It was psychological
On Tuesday they read me a statement confirming it was an illegal document which shouldn't be used for research purposes. To this day no one has ever clarified that point. They released me. I was shaking violently, I fell against the wall, then on
the floor and I just cried.
Bettina Rentz, a lecturer in international security and Sabir's personal tutor, said: He's a serious student, who works very hard and wants a career in academia. This is a great concern for our academic freedom but also for the climate on
Students have begun a petition calling on the university to acknowledge the disproportionate nature of [its] response to the possession of legitimate research materials.
More than 300 supporters of Yezza campaigned at the university campus this week, some dressed in Guantánamo-style orange suits marked "academic researcher", while others read from the al-Qaida manual to illustrate the fact that it is
legal unless being used for illegal purposes.
An application to the High Court in London has been issued seeking a judicial review of the decisions of the Home Office in deportation of Hicham Yezza.
The removal directions set for Sunday 1st June have now been cancelled by the Home Office, and an application will be made to them this afternoon for Mr Yezza to be released while his case is reconsidered.
The glorification clause of the Terrorism Act has created a climate where artists and academics must watch their words
A student downloads an al-Qaida document from a US government website and is held in custody for six days. A shop assistant writes poems about cutting people's heads off and is tried for being a terrorist. An opera composer is accused of
promoting terrorism, objects, and is bankrupted by a national newspaper.
What do these cases have in common? First, none of these people was successfully convicted of any crime. Second, none of them faced charges under the glorification clause of the Terrorism Act 2006. Third, they would not have been arrested and/or
tried and/or bankrupted had it not been a climate of opinion created by that clause.
The University of Nottingham has decided that its students and staff have no right to possess terrorism-related materials for the purposes of research, such as al-Qaeda training manuals freely available for download from US Government
One Nottingham postgrad student and a clerk were held under the Terrorism Act for doing just this earlier this year, before being released without charge (though the clerk now faces deportation), the university has now made it clear that it fully
supports these actions, and says that the student has no reason to possess such material. He's researching Islamic terrorism.
The student, Rizwaan Sabir, who is studying Islamic terrorism, said he had downloaded a copy of an al-Qaeda training manual for use in his MA dissertation and PhD application and had forwarded it to the administrator, Hicham Yezza, for printing.
After six days in detention, neither was charged.
A police letter warned Sabir that he risked re-arrest if found with the manual again and added: The university authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they
consider it legitimate for you to possess it for research purposes.
Comment: Plods on doctoral research
The letter from Mr Plod to Rizwaan Sabir is amazing: "The university authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they consider it legitimate for you to
possess it for research purposes."
The thing which immediately leaps off the screen is that the peak-capped jobsworth who produced this nonsense doesn't have the first idea of what Ph.D. research is. The reference to a "course of study" might be appropriate to a an
undergraduate. A person researching for a doctorate is engaged in original research which will add to knowledge. When I defended my thesis, and when Mr Sabir eventually defends his, we have to convince senior academics, often internationally
acclaimed experts in their field, that they have learned something new.
There can be no concept of "required" reading in doctoral research. The researcher doesn't know what he will find, or where he will find it. In Mr Sabir's case, he might find relevant material in a body of Arabic literature in the field
of Muslim theology which has extended over a millennium and a half.
Nor do the "university authorities" emerge with any credit, since Mr Sabir was recommended to read the controversial document by his supervisor. Perhaps the best way for him to stuff it to Plod and the university's pusillanimous bosses
would be to cite the document extensively in his thesis.
The UN's committee on human rights has just published a report criticising Britain's anti-terror laws and the resulting curbs on civil liberties. For many commentators the issues raised are mostly a matter of academic abstractions and speculative
meanderings. For me, it is anything but. These laws have destroyed my life.
On May 14 I was arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act - on suspicion of the instigation, preparation and commission of acts of terrorism : an absurdly nebulous formulation that told me nothing about the sin I had apparently
committed. Once in custody, almost 48 hours passed before it was confirmed that the entire operation (involving dozens of officers, police cars, vans, and scientific support agents) was triggered by the presence on my University of Nottingham
office computer of an equally absurd document called the al-Qaida Training Manual , a declassified open-source document that I had never read and had completely forgotten about since it had been sent to me months before.
Hicham Yezza, an activist and writer, was released without charge after six days in custody, immediately rearrested on immigration charges and issued with a removal order to Algeria, after which he was held for a further 27 days; he is still
awaiting a conclusion to his deportation case
A university administrator from Nottingham who falsely claimed he was entitled to be in the UK has been jailed for nine months.
Hitcham Yezza was originally arrested under the Terrorism Act after he printed off a copy of an al Qaida manual for a friend.
Both men were released without charge but Yezza, of Barker Gate, Nottingham, was rearrested.
He was found guilty of offences under the Immigration Act last month.
The jury at Northampton Crown Court heard the Algerian national was rearrested after police found the passport he claimed had been stolen.
He had told officials that the travel documents were stamped by immigration officials, extending his stay in Britain until December 2007, before they went missing.
In fact, Yezza had failed to get them stamped since 2003 and his stay in the UK was now illegal. He was found guilty last month of securing avoidance of enforcement action by deceptive means.
Sentencing him, Judge Charles Wide QC told him: The public is entitled to have confidence in the system of immigration control, but it makes it much more difficult for truthful applicants if some applicants tell lies, as you did.
Update: Police made up evidence against muslim student
A Muslim university student was held for seven days without charge as a suspected terrorist after police made up evidence against him. Documents from the professional standards unit of West Midlands police reveal that officers fabricated
key elements of the case against former University of Nottingham student, Rizwaan Sabir.
Sabir was researching terrorist tactics for a master's at the University of Nottingham in 2008 when he was detained under the Terrorism Act and accused by police of downloading an al-Qaida training manual for terrorist purposes. The 27-year-old,
however, had downloaded a manual from a US government website for his research which could be bought at WH Smith, Waterstones and Amazon as well as the university's own library. After seven days and six nights in police custody, Sabir was
released without charge or apology.
The incident so incensed the university's sole terrorism expert Dr Rod Thornton, a lecturer at its department of Politics and International Relations that he published an article condemning the University's handling of the arrest and treatment of
Sabir. In a paper prepared for the British International Studies Association, he alleged the university attempted to smear the student.
Now, however, the results of the internal West Midlands police professional standards investigation into the affair following complaints by Thornton over the police's handing of the case is complete. It found that officers effectively invented
what Thornton, the university's sole terrorism expert, told them about the al-Qaida training manual in a police interview. The findings of the force's standard's inquiry upheld Thornton's claim that officers made up what he said about the
Thornton has now referred the police treatment of him to the IPCC. The standards board, however, says that no officers will be investigated for misconduct.
The UK has a very real problem with websites that incite terrorism, and if we are not careful the government's preferred cure could be as bad as the disease itself. Faced with the impossibility of policing material that originates from abroad,
the home secretary is now planning to appoint herself the UK's first official censor.
In 2006, the government passed a law banning the display of material that "directly or indirectly" encouraged terrorism.
I also know, or hope I know, that the decision to close a site will not be left in the hands of humble beat officers, who have after all, previously arrested wearers of anti-Blair t-shirts for "offensiveness". That said, I'm not sure I
trust more senior policemen either. After all, it was an officer with the met's obscene publications unit who leant on satirical site
thinkofthechildren on the grounds it "could" incite violence. There's a weasel word, if ever there was one: so many things "could" glorify terrorism.
Sadly, this only catches UK-hosted websites, which are a small proportion of the whole: the most prolific inciters of terrorism lie well beyond the reach of the most dedicated UK copper. This is a biased law, but it's also a figleaf: a symptom of
government pretending that something can be done.
Yet government now wishes to do more. Recently, the home office informed me that the government has been working … to develop filtering software [to protect] against illegal material that promotes or encourages terrorism
Herein lies the real risk from terrorism. It's all very well arguing that terrorism sites are pernicious, evil, etc. But what the home office is doing is equally dangerous. Substituting police opinion for due process may be operationally
efficient: but it is an erosion of legality.
Replacing a properly enacted power to block banned sites with a filtering process that will permit the home secretary to censor by executive fiat strikes at the core of civil liberties in this country..
More criticisms Jacqui:
You really need to get
your sister's house in order
More than a year after Jacqui Smith gave a major speech on counter terrorism, in which she said she wanted jihadi literature removed from the web, the internet industry has seen scant sign of action from the government.
On January 17 2008, Smith told an international conference on radicalisation that material that glorifies terrorism, made illegal under the Terrorism Act 2006, should be blocked. Where there is illegal material on the net, I want it
removed, she said.
Earlier that day she had told Radio 4's Today Programme: We need to work with internet service providers, we need to actually use some of the lessons we've learned for example about how to protect children from paedophiles and grooming on the
internet to inform the way in which we use it to prevent violent extremism and to tackle terrorism as well. We have a responsibility... to cut off the supply of those who want to look to violent extremism.
Stopping extremist websites operating was one of the measures unveiled by Tony Blair in the aftermath of the 7 July suicide bombings in London in 2005.
Although the powers were enshrined in law with the Terrorism Act 2006, the Home Office has now admitted that not a single website has been shut down in the past two years.
Under Section 3 of the legislation, a police officer can order that unlawfully terrorism-related material is removed or modified within two working days.
However, Vernon Coaker, a Home Office minister, said: The preferred route of the police is to use informal contact with the communication service providers to request that the material is removed. To date no Section 3 notices have been issued
as this informal route has proved effective. Coaker added: Statistics covering the number of sites removed through such informal contact are not collected.
Patrick Mercer, the Conservative backbench MP who obtained the information, said he was shocked that despite spending over £100million on preventing radicalization, not a single extremist website had been closed down.
The Terrorism Act 2006 granted powers for police to compel web hosts to shut down websites promoting terrorism. But the powers have never been used, and forces have instead persuaded providers to take down websites voluntarily, according to the
security minister Lord West.
He told the Lords on Wednesday that he could not say how many websites have been censored because no records have been kept.
When we passed the Act in 2006, we laid down a requirement to make such records, but it has not really been done, he said.
When measures against extremist websites were announced, the government suggested ISPs might introduce filtering arrangements similar to the Internet Watch Foundation's blocklist of URLs leading to images of child abuse. No system has emerged,
however, and industry sources say the idea is not being discussed.
Police have arrested a man on suspicion of encouraging muslims to attack MPs.
The individual is thought to be involved with a website that praised the stabbing of the MP Stephen Timms and published a list of other MPs who voted for the war in Iraq, along with details of where to buy a knife.
West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit arrested the man and conducted a search of his home in the Dunstall area of Wolverhampton. Officers seized computer and electronic equipment, police said.
The man was being questioned under section one of the Terrorism Act 2006 on suspicion of encouraging an act of terrorism.
Detective Chief Inspector John Denley said: We are treating the contents and implications of this blog very seriously, and have taken action this morning to progress our investigation.
The website, Revolution Muslim, was hosted in Bellevue, Washington, and was taken down by the Americans at the request of the Home Office.
The website praised Roshonara Choudhry, who tried to stab Timms to death during a constituency surgery in Beckton, East London.
The website said: We ask Allah for her action to inspire Muslims to raise the knife of jihad against those who voted for the countless rapes, murders, pillages, and torture of Muslim civilians as a direct consequence of their vote.
The statement added: If you want to track an MP, you can find out their personal website after typing their name in this website.
A link on the website took the reader to the site of Tesco Direct for a £15 kitchen knife, similar to that used by Choudhry.
The site also featured videos and statements by Awlaki and by former members of al-Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Mohammed.
A man appeared in court charged with soliciting murder and offences under the Terrorism Act in relation to a blog listing MPs it claimed voted for the Iraq war. Bilal Zaheer Ahmad, from Wolverhampton, was arrested last week over the blog, which
allegedly called for action against the MPs.
The details appeared on a website that was said to have radicalised a young woman who went on to stab the former minister Stephen Timms during an advice surgery in east London in revenge for the Iraq war. Ahmad appeared handcuffed as he stood
between two security officers in the dock at London's City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.
He was remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on 29 November.
A law student who posted Islamic terrorist propaganda on the internet after becoming radicalised has been jailed for five years.
Mohammed Gul was pouring petrol on the fire and his actions could have spurred others to commit acts of terror, the Old Bailey heard.
Gul was found guilty of five counts of disseminating terrorist publications following a retrial at the Old Bailey.
Judge David Paget said his sentence had to be a deterrent to others and reflect the seriousness of the crime.
The judge praised the anti-terrorist police who, he said, had a Herculean task in reviewing the huge amount of material found on Gul's laptop. It had involved the biggest review of data ever undertaken by the anti-terrorist branch of
Scotland Yard and involved 30 officers over a period of six months, he said.
A campaign has been launched in response to a threat from lone terrorists - individuals with no direct links to groups such as al-Qaeda who are radicalised through information they find online.
The Home Office has launched a website (www.direct.gov.uk/reportingonlineterrorism) where members of the public can report material on the internet which could be used to incite terrorism.
British police will then try to take the information down to prevent the radicalisation of people in the UK. [It seems to be missing the step where someone examines the material to see if it is actually a
threat...Complainers are not always right, although the police seem to think so].
Tayside Assistant Chief Constable Colin McCashey, Scotland's head of counter-terrorism, said:
The main cause of concern is the use of the internet. We look at that from two angles. One is that if I was in a country 1,000 miles away I could communicate with would-be terrorists, or people vulnerable to radicalisation,
via the internet. This has become more of a threat to us.
The other is that we are aware of people who may be sitting in the comfort of their own home, looking at the internet, who are becoming more aware of what is on the internet.
We might be faced with problem individuals who are not part of a network, who are not connected to al-Qaeda, but who take it on themselves and act as a lone terrorist.
It does not take a great deal of imagination to realise how difficult that is to deal with.
Information leaflets and posters have been sent to every police force in the UK advising the public on how to identify and report offensive or illegal terrorism related content.
Security minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, said that it's vital that online extremism is taken seriously: I want to encourage those who come across extremist websites as part of their work to challenge it and report it through the DirectGov
By forging relationships with the internet industry and working with the public in this way, we can ensure that terrorist use of the internet does not go unchallenged.
Websites reported to Directgov via its online form are referred to the national Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit. The specialist team of police experts work with industry and partners in the UK and abroad to investigate and take down
illegal or offensive material if necessary.
In the last year, reporting through Directgov has led the government to remove content which has included beheading videos, terrorist training manuals and calls for racial or religious violence.
The Reporting extremism and terrorism online website defines what content is of interest:
What makes offensive content illegal
Not all offensive content is illegal.
The Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006 made it illegal to:
have or share information that could be useful to terrorists
share information that urges people to commit or help with acts of terrorism
glorify or praise terrorism
Examples of what makes terrorist or extremist content illegal are:
speeches or essays calling for racial or religious violence
videos of violence with messages of praise for the attackers
chat forums with postings calling for people to commit acts of terrorism
messages intended to stir up hatred against any religious or ethnic group
instructions on how to make weapons, poisons or bombs
Jailing Bilal Zaheer Ahmad for 12 years, Mr Justice Royce said he was sending out a loud and clear warning that Britain would not tolerate extremists preaching messages of hate and violence.
Ahmad who called on Muslims to murder MPs who supported the Iraq war, was the first person to be found guilty of inciting religious hatred under new laws banning the publication of inflammatory material.
The IT worker praised 21-year-old university student Roshonara Choudhry as a heroine for stabbing Stephen Timms in east London in May last year. Ahmad called on other Muslims to follow in her footsteps by attacking and killing politicians
who had voted to support the war in Iraq. He posted a full list of MPs and provided an internet link to their personal contact details, suggesting constituency surgeries were a good place to encounter them in person .
The judge told Ahmad: You purport to be a British citizen, but what you stand for is totally alien to what we stand for in our country. You became a viper in our midst willing to go to as far as possible to strike at the heart of our system.
Website should be monitored and material that promotes violent extremism should be removed. A nine-month inquiry by the Commons home affairs select committee concluded the internet is a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and plays a
part in most, if not all, cases of violent radicalisation.
ISPs should be more active in monitoring sites and the government should work with them to develop a code of practice for removing material that could lead to radicalisation, the report said.
The inquiry found that the internet played a greater role in violent radicalisation than prisons, universities or places of worship, and was now one of the few unregulated spaces where radicalisation is able to take place .
But it added that a sense of grievance was key, and direct personal contact with radicals was a significant factor . The government's counter-terrorism strategy should show the British state is not antithetical to Islam , the
committee said. Keith Vaz, its chairman, said:
More resources need to be directed to these threats and to preventing radicalisation through the internet and in private spaces. These are the fertile breeding grounds for terrorism.
The July 7 bombings in London, carried out by four men from West Yorkshire, were a powerful demonstration of the devastating and far-reaching impact of home-grown radicalisation.
We remain concerned by the growing support for non-violent extremism and more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology.
He added that a policy of engagement, not alienation would prevent radicalisation and called for the government's counter-radicalisation strategy Prevent to be renamed Engage.
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties and privacy group Big Brother Watch, said:
Whatever the reason for blocking online content, it should be decided in court and not by unaccountable officials.
There is a serious risk that this kind of censorship not only makes the internet less secure for law-abiding people, but drives underground the real threats and makes it harder to protect the public.
A man once described as the terrorists' favourite bookseller has had his conviction for selling books about Jihad quashed.
Material produced and distributed by Ahmed Faraz ended up in the hands of almost every major terrorist in Britain. Members of the trans-Atlantic airline gang even cited his texts in their suicide videos.
Faraz was convicted of 11 counts of possessing and disseminating terrorist publications. He was sentenced to three years in jail for running an operation to publish extremist texts and violent DVDs and distribute them around the world with the
aim of priming terrorists for action.
But now his appeal against the convictions has been upheld. Court of Appeal judges found the prosecution in his original trial had been wrongly allowed to rely on the fact that the books had been found in the homes of high profile terrorists,
without there being any suggestion that the offenders had actually been encouraged by the books to commit their terrorist acts.
A total fantasist who posted gruesome videos on Facebook of al-Qaeda beheading captives has been jailed for five years. Craig Slee pleaded guilty to four offences under the 2006 Terrorism Act and also admitted possession of can of CS gas.
On sentencing him at Preston Crown Court, Judge Anthony Russell QC said:
It beggars belief that anyone can have an interest in such material which reveals a shocking and barbaric depravity and complete absence of any degree of humanity.
Slee also put online links to a communique by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claiming those from the west were Crusaders and encouraging terrorism.
The court heard, Slee created a false identity and set up a Facebook page - using the alter-ego Hashim X Shakur. Slee claimed to be a Muslim and provided personal information about himself, the majority of which was false. He also engaged in
Facebook chat with other people and kept up his pretence of his alter-ego, claiming he had been on trips to Jalalabad, had suffered shrapnel injuries and implied he was a member of the Taliban, said police. However, the court heard Slee has no
connection to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist network or organisation.
Det Ch Supt Tony Mole, head of the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, said:
It is clear that Slee was a total fantasist.He had no links whatsoever to any terrorist organisations, was not a radical convert and there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest he engaged in any attack planning.
While Slee may not have been planning any sort of attack, he could easily have influenced someone else with the propaganda he was uploading.
Google gives UK internet censors super flagger status to give high priority requests to get YouTube videos taken down.
YouTube will instantly screen any content flagged by British security officials. The censors will be able to flag multiple videos at scale rather than needing to flag each offending video.
The UK's security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, worryingly told the Financial Times the government has to do more to deal with material that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that
people would want to see or receive.
Brokenshire also said issues being considered by the government included a code of conduct for internet service providers and companies. The government, he added, was also keen to explore options where search engines and social media sites
change their algorithms so that unsavoury content is less likely to appear or is served up with more balanced material.
Google confirmed that the Home Office had been given powerful flagging permissions on YouTube but stressed that Google itself still retained the ultimate decision on whether to remove content for breaching its community guidelines.
China called on Saturday for a worldwide crackdown on the use of the Internet by religious extremists and terrorists to stamp out their ability to communicate their ideas and raise funds.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the remarks during the annual gathering of the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly in New York. he said:
As new developments emerge in the global fight against terrorism, the international community should take new measures to address them.
In particular, it should focus on combating religious extremism and cyber terrorism, resolutely eliminate the roots and block channels of spreading terrorism and extremism.
Theresa May responded on Tuesday for the British government.
She announced policies for new Extremist Disruption Orders. Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives. They will also be barred from speaking at
public events if they represent a threat to the functioning of democracy , under the new Extremist Disruption Orders.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will lay out plans to allow judges to ban people from broadcasting or protesting in certain places, as well as associating with specific people.
The Home Secretary will also introduce banning orders for extremist groups, which would make it a criminal offence to be a member of or raise funds for a group that spreads or promotes hatred. The maximum sentence could be up to 10 years
Senior British executives from Twitter, Google and Facebook were summoned to Downing Street on Thursday and told to do more to take action to curb the online activities of extremists. The Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service are in talks
about using court orders to ensure that ISPs immediately remove extremist propaganda.
The warning came as it transpired that Britain's most high-profile radical Islamist preacher, Anjem Choudary, had influenced the man involved in the Ottawa attack. Canadian terrorist Martin Ahmad Rouleau's Twitter account showed that he followed
several radical preachers, including Choudary, who tweeted that he hoped that the Canadian attacker would be admitted to heaven.
However, Choudary said: The fact that someone follows you on Twitter does not mean you necessarily influenced him to do anything.
As part of the plans, the Government also wants to encourage social media sites to use so-called counter-speech tactics, which involves positive messages about Islam online to prevent extremists monopolising websites.
David Cameron has called for governments around the world to do more to censor 'extremist' material online. He made his comments during a visit to Australia's Parliament. He said:
The root cause of the challenge we face is the extremist narrative. A new and pressing challenge is getting extremist material taken down from the Internet. There is a role for government in that. We must not allow the Internet to be an
ungoverned space. But there is a role for companies too.
Cameron then went on to detail measures already being taken in the UK to combat online extremism, including adding supposedly extremists material to ISP blocking lists, improving reporting mechanisms and being more proactive in taking down
supposedly harmful material.
The British government also recently revealed plans to reduce the amount of hate material online. However, a report released in May revealed that the proposal is experiencing a number of hurdles, including opposition from ISPs and social
networks, particularly those based outside the UK.
Open Rights Group has responded to the announcement that ISPs will add extremist websites to filters designed to protect children from seeing adult content. Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group said:
We need transparency whenever political content is blocked even when we are talking about websites that espouse extremist views. The government must be clear about what sites they think should be blocked, why they are blocking them and whether
there will be redress for site owners who believe that their website has been blocked incorrectly.
Given the low uptake of filters, it is difficult to see how effective the government's approach will be when it comes to preventing young people from seeing material they have deemed inappropriate. Anyone with an interest in extremist views can
surely find ways of circumventing child friendly filters
The UK's major internet service providers (ISPs) are to introduce new measures to tackle online extremism, Downing Street has said. The ISPs had committed to strengthening their filters and adding a public reporting button to flag
terrorism-related material. In a briefing note, No 10 said the ISPs had subsequently committed to filtering out extremist and terrorist material, and hosting a button that members of the public could use to report content. It would work in a
similar fashion to the reporting button that allows the public to flag instances of child sexual exploitation on the internet.
However, the BBC understands that while the ISPs agreed in principle to do more to prevent extremism, they have not actually committed to the measures outlined by No 10.
We have had productive dialogue with government about addressing the issue of extremist content online and we are working through the technical details, a spokeswoman for BT said. A spokesman for Sky said: We're exploring ways in which
we can help our customers report extremist content online, including hosting links on our website. The plan presents logistical problems as extremist groups such as Isis typically use channels like YouTube or Twitter that are popular for
entirely legal purposes.
Government censors are struggling to stop the spread of extremist messages on the internet despite taking down 1,000 videos a week, the Home Secretary has admitted. Amber Rudd said she was in talks with social media websites about setting up a
new industry standard board to agree the rules setting out when sites should be taken down.
The new home secretary was grilled by MPs on the House of Commons' Home Affairs committee about what more could be done to force US sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to take action. It is alarming that these companies have teams of only
a few hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts Home Affairs select committee report
Rudd said that major internet companies could take more responsibility:
Because the speed these damaging videos get put up and then we manage to take down -- at the moment we are taking down 1,000 a week of these sites -- is too slow compared to the speed at which they are communicated.
I do think more can be done and we are in discussions with industry to see what more they are prepared to do.
We would like to see a form of industry standard board that they could put together in order to have an agreement of oversight and to take action much more quickly on sites which will do such damage to people in terms of making them
communicating terrorist information.
Rudd said the new industry standards board could be similar to an existing board which protects children from sexual exploitation, presumably referring to the IWF.
The committee's report said:
It is alarming that these companies have teams of only a few hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts and that Twitter does not even proactively report extremist content to law enforcement agencies.
These companies are hiding behind their supranational legal status to pass the parcel of responsibility and refusing to act responsibly in case they damage their brands. If they continue to fail to tackle this issue and allow their platforms to
become the 'Wild West' of the internet, then it will erode their reputation as responsible operators.
Internet companies should be required to co-operate with Britain's counter-extremism police and shut down accounts immediately.
Theresa May is to urge internet companies to take down extremist content being shared by terrorist groups within two hours, during a summit with the French president and the Italian prime minister.
Home Office analysis shows that Isis shared 27,000 links to extremist content in the first five months of the 2017 and, once shared, the material remained available online for an average of 36 hours. The government would like that reduced to two
hours, and ultimately they are urging companies to develop technology to spot material early and prevent it being shared in the first place.
The issue is of particular concern after last week's attack on a London Underground train at Parsons Green, and follows a British thinktank report, which found that online jihadist propaganda attracts more clicks in Britain than anywhere else in
Extremist material is shared very rapidly when it is first published in what experts call a starburst effect: more than two-thirds of shares take place within the first two hours, so reducing the amount of time the material is visible can
drastically squeeze the number of users who see it.
A government source noted that once an internet user has shown interest in extremist content, the web giants' algorithms keep pushing similar material towards them online. We want them to break the echo chambers, he said.
The truth is that a lot of the material that terrorists share is not actually illegal at all. Instead, it was often comprised of news reports about perceived injustices in Palestine, stuff that you could never censor in a free society.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told an audience at New America, a Washington think tank, on Thursday night that there was an online arms race between militants and the forces of law and order.
She said that social media companies should press ahead with development and deployment of AI systems that could spot militant content before it is posted on the internet and block it from being disseminated.
Since the beginning of 2017, violent militant operatives have created 40,000 new internet destinations, Rudd said. As of 12 months ago, social media companies were taking down about half of the violent militant material from their sites within
two hours of its discovery, and lately that proportion has increased to two thirds, she said.
YouTube is now taking down 83% of violent militant videos it discovers, Rudd said, adding that UK authorities have evidence that the Islamic State was now struggling to get some of its materials online.
She added that in the wake of an increasing number of vehicle attacks by islamic terrorists British security authorities were reviewing rental car regulations and considering ways for authorities to collect more relevant data from car hire
The UK government has unveiled a tool it says can accurately detect jihadist content and block it from being viewed.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the BBC she would not rule out forcing technology companies to use it by law. Rudd is visiting the US to meet tech companies to discuss the idea, as well as other efforts to tackle extremism.
The government provided £600,000 of public funds towards the creation of the tool by an artificial intelligence company based in London.
Thousands of hours of content posted by the Islamic State group was run past the tool, in order to train it to automatically spot extremist material.
ASI Data Science said the software can be configured to detect 94% of IS video uploads. Anything the software identifies as potential IS material would be flagged up for a human decision to be taken.
The company said it typically flagged 0.005% of non-IS video uploads. But this figure is meaningless without an indication of how many contained any content that have any connection with jihadis.
In London, reporters were given an off-the-record briefing detailing how ASI's software worked, but were asked not to share its precise methodology. However, in simple terms, it is an algorithm that draws on characteristics typical of IS and its
It sounds like the tool is more about analysing data about the uploading account, geographical origin, time of day, name of poster etc rather than analysing the video itself.
Comment: Even extremist takedowns require accountability
Can extremist material be identified at 99.99% certainty as Amber Rudd claims today? And how does she intend to ensure that there is legal accountability for content removal?
The Government is very keen to ensure that extremist material is removed from private platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. It has urged use of machine learning and algorithmic identification by the companies, and threatened fines for
failing to remove content swiftly.
Today Amber Rudd claims to have developed a tool to identify extremist content, based on a database of known material. Such tools can have a role to play in identifying unwanted material, but we need to understand that there are some important
caveats to what these tools are doing, with implications about how they are used, particularly around accountability. We list these below.
Before we proceed, we should also recognise that this is often about computers (bots) posting vast volumes of material with a very small audience. Amber Rudd's new machine may then potentially clean some of it up. It is in many ways a propaganda
battle between extremists claiming to be internet savvy and exaggerating their impact, while our own government claims that they are going to clean up the internet. Both sides benefit from the apparent conflict.
The real world impact of all this activity may not be as great as is being claimed. We should be given much more information about what exactly is being posted and removed. For instance the UK police remove over 100,000 pieces of extremist
content by notice to companies: we currently get just this headline figure only. We know nothing more about these takedowns. They might have never been viewed, except by the police, or they might have been very influential.
The results of the government's' campaign to remove extremist material may be to push them towards more private or censor-proof platforms. That may impact the ability of the authorities to surveil criminals and to remove material in the future.
We may regret chasing extremists off major platforms, where their activities are in full view and easily used to identify activity and actors.
Whatever the wisdom of proceeding down this path, we need to be worried about the unwanted consequences of machine takedowns. Firstly, we are pushing companies to be the judges of legal and illegal. Secondly, all systems make mistakes and require
accountability for them; mistakes need to be minimised, but also rectified.
Here is our list of questions that need to be resolved.
1 What really is the accuracy of this system?
Small error rates translate into very large numbers of errors at scale. We see this with more general internet filters in the UK, where our blocked.org.uk project regularly uncovers and reports errors.
How are the accuracy rates determined? Is there any external review of its decisions?
The government appears to recognise the technology has limitations. In order to claim a high accuracy rate, they say at least 6% of extremist video content has to be missed. On large platforms that would be a great deal of material needing human
review. The government's own tool shows the limitations of their prior demands that technology "solve" this problem.
Islamic extremists are operating rather like spammers when they post their material. Just like spammers, their techniques change to avoid filtering. The system will need constant updating to keep a given level of accuracy.
2 Machines are not determining meaning
Machines can only attempt to pattern match, with the assumption that content and form imply purpose and meaning. This explains how errors can occur, particularly in missing new material.
3 Context is everything
The same content can, in different circumstances, be legal or illegal. The law defines extremist material as promoting or glorifying terrorism. This is a vague concept. The same underlying material, with small changes, can become news, satire or
commentary. Machines cannot easily determine the difference.
4 The learning is only as good as the underlying material
The underlying database is used to train machines to pattern match. Therefore the quality of the initial database is very important. It is unclear how the material in the database has been deemed illegal, but it is likely that these are police
determinations rather than legal ones, meaning that inaccuracies or biases in police assumptions will be repeated in any machine learning.
5 Machines are making no legal judgment
The machines are not making a legal determination. This means a company's decision to act on what the machine says is absent of clear knowledge. At the very least, if material is "machine determined" to be illegal, the poster, and users
who attempt to see the material, need to be told that a machine determination has been made.
6 Humans and courts need to be able to review complaints
Anyone who posts material must be able to get human review, and recourse to courts if necessary.
7 Whose decision is this exactly?
The government wants small companies to use the database to identify and remove material. If material is incorrectly removed, perhaps appealed, who is responsible for reviewing any mistake?
It may be too complicated for the small company. Since it is the database product making the mistake, the designers need to act to correct it so that it is less likely to be repeated elsewhere.
If the government want people to use their tool, there is a strong case that the government should review mistakes and ensure that there is an independent appeals process.
8 How do we know about errors?
Any takedown system tends towards overzealous takedowns. We hope the identification system is built for accuracy and prefers to miss material rather than remove the wrong things, however errors will often go unreported. There are strong
incentives for legitimate posters of news, commentary, or satire to simply accept the removal of their content. To complain about a takedown would take serious nerve, given that you risk being flagged as a terrorist sympathiser, or perhaps having
to enter formal legal proceedings.
We need a much stronger conversation about the accountability of these systems. So far, in every context, this is a question the government has ignored. If this is a fight for the rule of law and against tyranny, then we must not create
arbitrary, unaccountable, extra-legal censorship systems.
Social media giants have been ramping up internet censorship to prevent or take down terrorist posts. However the police are now complaining that the companies are not proactively reporting such posters to the police.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the outgoing chief of UK counter-terror policing, said they are threatening public safety to maximise profit and customer satisfaction. Speaking at a counter-terror conference in London, Mr
Rowley said social media firms should work with police in the same way banks had been made to co-operate on tracing dirty money. He said:
The online extremists seem able to act with impunity, occupying spaces owned and managed by legitimate and very wealthy corporations.
I am disappointed that in the UK as a police service we are yet to receive a direct referral from them when they have identified such behaviour.
They are effectively private tenants to their communication service provider landlords. In the real world if a landlord knew their property was being used to plan or inspire terrorist attacks you would expect them to show corporate
responsibility by informing the authorities and evicting them forthwith. We want to see those same standards applied in the virtual world.
Google, Facebook, YouTube and other sites would be required by law to take down extremist material within 24 hours of receiving an official complaint under an amendment put forward for inclusion in new counter-terror legislation.
The Labour MP Stephen Doughty's amendment echoes censorship laws that came into effect in Germany last year. However the effect of the German law was to enable no-questions-asked censorship of anything the government doesn't like. Social media
companies have no interest in challenging unfair censorship and find the easiest and cheapest way to comply is to err on the side of the government, and take down anything asked regardless of the merits of the case.
The counter-terrorism strategy unveiled by the home secretary, Sajid Javid, this month, said the Home Office would place a renewed emphasis on engagement with internet providers and work with the tech industry to seek more investment in
technologies that automatically identify and remove terrorist content before it is accessible to all.
But Doughty, a member of the home affairs select committee, said his amendment was needed because the voluntary approach was failing. He said a wide variety of extremist content remained online despite repeated warnings.
If these companies can remove copyrighted video or music content from companies like Disney within a matter of hours, there is no excuse for them to be failing to do so for extremist material.
Doughty's amendment would also require tech companies to proactively check content for extremist material and take it down within six hours of it being identified.
The proactive check of content alludes to the censorship machines being introduced by the EU to scan uploads for copyrighted material. The extension to detect terrorist material coupled with the erring on the side of caution approach would
inevitably lead to the automatic censorship of any content even using vocabulary of terrorism, regardless of it being news reporting, satire or criticsim.