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UK terrorism watchdog criticises govt plans to fine tech firms over extremist content

Theresa May
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Theresa May’s plans to fine the likes of Google and Facebook for failing to remove extremist content posted online have been likened to China’s internet censorship.

Speaking at a Terrorism and Social Media conference in Swansea, Max Hill QC, the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said technology firms should be “brought firmly onside” as opposed to being threatened with fines.

He added: “I struggle to see how it would help if our parliament were to criminalise tech company bosses who ‘don’t do enough’. How do we measure ‘enough’? What is the appropriate sanction?

UK govt pledges £2m for innovative solutions against terrorism

“We do not live in China, where the internet simply goes dark for millions when government so decides. Our democratic society cannot be treated that way.”

The criticism comes after May shared her plans to sanction internet companies if they did not remove terrorist propaganda published on their platforms following the Manchester Arena bombing, which injured hundreds, and killed 22 people in May.

As revealed by The Times, Salman Abedi, the man who committed the Manchester attack, used videos posted online to help build the suicide device he detonated inside the Arena.

May, whose government has been widely criticised following proposals to ban encryption, met with the newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron, last month.

Following the meeting, the PM said both leaders would work to make sure the internet was not a safe harbour for terrorists and criminals.

At the time, May highlighted: “The counter-terrorism cooperation between British and French intelligence agencies is already strong, but President Macron and I agree that more should be done to tackle the terrorist threat online.

“In the UK we are already working with social media companies to halt the spread of extremist material and poisonous propaganda that is warping young minds.

“I can announce that the UK and France will work together to encourage corporations to do more and abide by their social responsibility to step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks, including exploring the possibility of creating a new legal liability for tech companies if they fail to remove unacceptable content,” concluded the PM.

Context

The PM has previously spoken in favour of being able to ‘regulate’ the internet, essentially controlling what people are able to post and share online, particularly in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

During her time as home secretary, May supported the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Act (otherwise known as ‘Snoopers’ Charter’), a controversial bill which gives the government unprecedented surveillance powers, and signed into law at the end of last year.

May has said that defeating extremism “is one of the great challenges of our time”, but it’ can’t, she added, be defeated through military intervention alone.

“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,” the PM noted at the time.

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