Up to 400 online platforms hosting terrorist content, Commission says

Iraqi soldiers display a flag belonging to the Islamic State (IS) as they take up position on the roof of a house in the formerly IS held district of Muthana in eastern Mosul, northern Iraq on 08 January 2017. [EPA/AHMED JALIL]

This article is part of our special report Regulating against radicalisation.

Between 200 and 400 online platforms are currently hosting content that could lead to terrorist radicalisation, the European Commission has said.

Speaking at a Brussels event on Wednesday (6 March), Hans Das, head of unit for terrorism and radicalisation in the Commission’s DG Home, said that while terrorist content has traditionally been disseminated across larger platforms, it is now being spread more widely over lesser-known sites.

The event, hosted by the Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers trade association, CISPE, took place as European Parliament regulators debate the finer details of the Commission’s plans to regulate against the appearance of online terrorist content.

‘Small platforms’ are the target of online terrorist content regulation, MEP says

The EU is taking regulatory measures to clamp down on the dissemination of terrorist content online. In the European Parliament, the file is being dealt with by the Civil Liberties Committee, with MEP Daniel Dalton leading the report. EURACTIV sat down with Dalton to discuss the finer details of the plans.

Das described as ‘essential to the plans’ the notion of obliging platforms to enact proactive measures as a means to ensure that previously removed content does not reappear online.

“There is so much terrorism propaganda online that is being recycled so quickly… It would be totally irrational to put the burden of proof on law enforcement agencies and the courts,” he said.

“Do we really want our police authorities to be spending their time chasing up each and every version of a video that comes online and then issuing removal orders to companies?”

“Companies need to take responsibility in this area. There are a number of technological solutions already developed,” Das added.

Dr Hany Farid, a senior adviser for Counter Extremism Project (CEP), recently told EURACTIV that most platforms were unwilling to assume their civic responsibilities, which could soon backfire for them.

Farid is a world-leading authority on computer forensics and developer of a hashing software capable of identifying and quickly removing violent images, video, and audio content online, the eGLYPH technology.

“We are at where we are today because of the sheer unwillingness of the platforms to cooperate with wider social concerns,” he said.

“The scale of extremist content online is phenomenal.”

Farid said he would not be surprised if the platforms’ failure to counter the spread of terrorist content started to hit their revenues.

“Advertisers are going to start to turn away,” he said. “They won’t want to be associated with businesses that allow the dissemination of such offensive material.”

Meanwhile, the Romanian Presidency of the EU believes that young people are the most at risk of radicalisation.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mihai Niţoi of the Romanian Presidency said that “no one is safe from the threat [of online terrorist content],” and that the priority of the Council was always to “diminish the availability” of material that would fall under the scope of the regulation, especially for young people, who, he said, are being specifically targeted.

Ministers clamp down on online terrorist content despite wave of opposition

Ministers sitting on the EU Home Affairs Council adopted their negotiating position on the European Commission’s proposed regulation against the spread of online terrorist content on Thursday (6 December), as those in the industry reacted with frustration to the plans.

However, there are some who feel that the measures on the table are misaligned.

Jens-Henrik Jeppesen of the Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT) said on Wednesday that “many free expression groups have issues” with how the referral procedure for content that breaches the regulation would take place under the new plans, fearing that legitimate political debate may become stifled in the cause of restricting online material.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur for the file, ECR MEP Daniel Dalton, said that on the scope of the plans, “there is an issue of whether cloud infrastructure services should be included or not.”

“My opinion is that there is a distinction between consumer cloud services, like Dropbox, and cloud infrastructure services,” he added.

The Secretary-General of CISPE, Francisco Mingorance, rallied for this issue, saying that the regulation, as it stands, “targets the wrong player” in not providing a specific legal carve-out for cloud infrastructure service providers.

“Our industry provides the underlying foundation for businesses to manage their data and build their own systems,” he said.

“We have no foresight or supervision over the nature of the content that is eventually delivered to the public. We are not responsible for putting the content in front of people.”

Moreover, Mingorance suggested that there may be issues surrounding data protection if cloud infrastructure services came under the scope of the plans, as such firms “would have to access the content in order to read it and understand whether it comes under the definition as of terrorist content.”

EURACTIV pressed the European Commission’s Hans Das as to why such services were not given an exclusion clause from the outset.

“Our strategy from the beginning was to cover all the relevant services in the fight against online terrorist content, he said”

“However, I believe that the wording of the text could be further refined for clarity. We do need clearer definitions on the scope,” Das added.

Mingorance chimed in after hearing the Commission’s response.

“Our industry is a relatively new sector,” he said. “In my experience, there are difficulties with understanding the specificities of cloud service infrastructure providers and our competences.”

'This is not censorship' says King, amid online terrorist content crackdown

Security commissioner Julian King assured EU citizens on Thursday (13 September) that plans to tackle the spread of terrorist content online do not amount to “anywhere near censorship.”

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