Government intelligence agencies and private sector tech organisations must work together to combat terrorist threats from groups such as Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
This is according to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Director Robert Hannigan, who wants social media giants like Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to take potential threats seriously.
Writing in the Financial Times, Hannigan explains Isis is the first terrorist group with members who have grown up with the Internet and while other groups in the past have made use of the web, these younger members have started using it in very different ways.
“Where al-Qaeda and its affiliates saw the Internet as a place to disseminate material anonymously or meet in ‘dark spaces’, Isis has embraced the web as a noisy channel in which to promote itself, intimidate people and radicalise new recruits,” he claims.
The director believes that intelligence agencies including GCHQ and MI5 need to enter the public debate about privacy in order to show how they are accountable for the data they use to protect people, just as the private sector must show how it filters and sells its customers’ data.
However, Hannigan also wants organisations like his own to receive greater support from the private sector, including large US tech firms that seem to dominate the web, which he claims are in “denial” about misuse.
“GCHQ cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web,” Hannigan claims.
“Increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the route 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 transformation as the rest of us.
“If they are to meet this challenge, it means coming up with better arrangements for facilitating lawful investigation by security and law enforcement agencies than we have now,” he adds.
For the GCHQ director, co-operation between intelligence agencies and the private sector would lead to a more sustainable relationship and more comfortable customers.
“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creating that is the World Wide Web, we need a new deal between democratic government and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens,” claims Hannigan.
“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,” he added.