Tech Against Terrorism Reader’s Digest – 7 February 2020

In 2020 Tech Against Terrorism is introducing its Reader’s Digest, a weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy.

Counterterrorism

“Rush to change sentencing laws before release of convicted terrorists”: Following the recent attack in Streatham, London – committed a few days after the perpetrator was automatically released from prison half-way through his sentence for dissemination of terrorist material – the UK government has been pushing for a new legislation that prevents further automatic releases of those convicted for terrorism offences. This article explores the ongoing debate around this new law, which could come into effect before the end of the month. (The Guardian, 05.02.2020)

“Insecurity in the Sahel: Europe’s next fight against jihadism”: Andrew Lebovich expounds on the challenges in fighting terrorism in the Sahel, and on some of the weaknesses of the current regional response. (Lebovich, European Council on Foreign Relations, 05.02.2020)

“FBI Director: 2019 ‘deadliest’ year for domestic terrorism”: With the rise of domestic terrorism attacks in the US over the last year, VOA reports that the FBI is set to treat domestic terrorism, including racially and ethnically motivated terrorism, as an equal priority to the Islamic State in 2020. (Voice of America, 05.02.2020)


Far-right violent extremism and terrorism 

“Neo-Nazi terror group The Base linked to the war in Ukraine”: Motherboard follows a young American from a group chat of US-based neo-Nazi group The Base to the frontline in Eastern Ukraine. This story highlights the transnational nature of the global neo-Nazi network and how the conflict in Ukraine attracts right-wing violent extremist foreign fighters in serving as a training ground for radicalised individuals – similar to what the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria conflicts have done for groups like al-Qaeda and IS.  (Motherboard, 06.02.2020)

Weaponizing white thymos: flows of rage in the online audiences of the alt-right”: By studying Twitter data, Bharath Ghanesh looks at how the US far-right, including violent extremist far-right groups, has developed an online culture that builds on perceived white victimisation and racialised pride. Ghanesh suggests that studies of the radical right should start looking at the ‘rhetoric, aesthetics, and participatory cultures that produce and circulate white thymos’ in order to improve our understanding of the tools that the radical right seeks to mobilise. (Ghanesh, Cultural Studies, 23.01.2020)

“Kicked off Facebook, Canadian far-right groups resurface on the internet’s fringes”: GlobalNews takes a look at what happened to far-right violent extremists groups after they were removed from mainstream tech platforms and pushed onto fringe platforms following the 2019 Christchurch attack. (GlobalNews, 03.02.2020)

“The many faces of neo-nazism in the UK”: Cristina Ariza provides an overview of the neo-Nazi scene in the United Kingdom, underlining how this threat is multi-faceted and constantly evolving. (Ariza, Open  Democracy, 06.02.2020)


Islamist terrorism  

“Islamic State adjusts strategy to remain on Telegram: Analysing the impact of the Europol-led operation on Islamic State presence on Telegram last November, Raphael Gluck  and Laurence Binder investigate the group’s lasting presence on the platform, long-known as their online home. Whilst IS online operations have been heavily impacted by the clampdown, the group has developed a range of techniques to maintain its presence, from the creation of new bots to the older technique of safe users lists. (Gluck & Binder, Global Network on Extremism and Technology, February 2020)

“Terrorists and technological innovation”: In this look at terrorist use of technology, the authors divide the adoption and adaption by terrorists to new technologies into a four-phase ‘adaptation curve’: the early adoption, characterised by initial failed or underperformed attempts; the iteration, focused on improvements despite inconsistent success; the breakthrough, characterised by significant improvement; and finally the competition phase, a cycle of adaptation and counter-adaptation as tech companies and states develop countermeasures. (Gartenstein-Ross, Clarke, Shear, Lawfare, 02.02.2020)

“White House confirms death of AQAP leader”: Following confirmation that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Qasim al-Rimi was killed in US airstrike, Long War Journal provides a profile of the leader whom the White House says was the deputy to al-Qaeda’s global leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (FDD’s Long War Journal, 06.02.2020)


Tech policy

“EU big four press Vestager to clear path for champions”: Germany, France, Poland, and Italy have pressed EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to swiftly introduce the competition law reforms that they believe necessary for European champions to rival China and the US. Amidst this pressure, the member states have demanded that the EU rethink its approach to big US tech companies as a priority matter, ideally by Q2 of this year, and draft proposals to institute a framework for the definition and regulation of “digital platforms with paramount importance for competition at European level.” These calls are in line with new plans within the EU to introduce precautionary rules on such companies, Politico reports, rather than acting after an infringement has been committed. (Politico, 06.02.2020)

“Researchers finds ‘anonymized’ data is even less anonymous than we thought”: Reporting on a study led by two Harvard students, Motherboards takes a closer look at the limitations of ‘anonymised’ data, calling into questions users’ current understanding on online privacy and security. According to the study, anonymised data can be seen as multiple pieces of the same puzzle that hackers can easily assemble to identify individual users, even though the pieces come from different companies. (Vice, 03.02.2020)


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Background to Tech Against Terrorism

Tech Against Terrorism is an initiative launched by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (UN CTED) in April 2017. We support the global technology sector in responding to terrorist use of the internet whilst respecting human rights, and we work to promote public-private partnerships to mitigate this threat. Our research shows that terrorist groups – both jihadist and far-right terrorists – consistently exploit smaller tech platforms when disseminating propaganda. At Tech Against Terrorism, our mission is to support smaller tech companies in tackling this threat whilst respecting human rights and to provide companies with practical tools to facilitate this process. As a public-private partnership, the initiative has been supported by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and the governments of Spain, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, and Canada.