Tech Against Terrorism Reader’s Digest – 14 February 2020

Our weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy.

Counterterrorism

– “UN report should pressure countries to repatriate foreign fighters”: The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UMAMI) has been monitoring prosecutions of terrorism-related cases in Iraq between 2018 and 2019. Their recent report confirms civil society’s concerns about how the Iraqi judicial system has dealt with those accused of joining the Islamic State, including foreign fighters from Europe, underlining a lack of safeguards for fundamental rights, due process, and fair trial. As several states have refrained from bringing their citizens back to face trial in their home countries, concerns have been raised with regards to tasking the Iraqi judiciary with such a mandate. (Just Security, 06.02.2020)

– “Why extremists need therapy”: Following two recent terror attacks in the UK – both committed by individuals convicted for terrorist offences and released half-way through their sentences – a new terror law is being debated that would automatically prevent early releases of terrorist offenders. In this context, The Atlantic reflects on the current understanding of the psychological profiles of those convicted with terrorism-related crimes, and on how prisons can be a breeding ground for radicalisation. By looking at other countries’ practices and successes in deradicalisation, this article argues for the prison system to provide mental health support and education if deradicalisation is to work. (The Atlantic, 11.02.2020)


Far-right violent extremism and terrorism 

– “Male supremacist terrorism as a rising threat”: Whilst attention to violent extremist far-right movements in Europe and North America has increased, analysis has largely focused on racist and xenophobic elements within these movements, often leaving out misogynist motivations. However 2018, the year that saw two misogynistically motivated attacks occur in North America, marked a turning point in public awareness of the violent consequences of male supremacist ideology. In this piece, Alex DiBranco analyses the beliefs at the core of male supremacist extremism. (Alex DiBranco, ICCT, 10.02.2020) 

–  “We once fought jihadists. Now we battle white supremacists”: In this article, Max Rose (Democratic Member of US Congress) and Ali Soufan (former FBI Special Agent and founder of the Soufan Center) reflect on the issue of classifying white supremacist groups as “domestic terrorism” in the US. Similar to Islamist terrorism, Rose and Soufan explain how white supremacists have developed international networks that transcend national borders, homing in on the conflict in Ukraine as a training ground. Yet, there is still no white supremacist group designated as a foreign terrorist organisation in the U.S, limiting the capacity of American law enforcement to act against this threat. Rose and Soufan argue that designation of these groups would aid counterterrorism efforts to this end, especially with regard to intelligence-sharing with allied countries. (The New York Times, 11.02.2020)


Islamist terrorism  

– “What Idlib means to Syria’s key players”: As the Syrian regime continues its attempts to regain control of Idlib, increased and complex tensions between Turkey, Syria, Russia, and Iran are placing the future of the remaining rebel and jihadist groups there in the balance. BBC Monitoring experts provide insightful analysis of what is at stake for each key player in this conflict, including that of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – the dominant Islamist terrorist group in the province. (BBC Monitoring, 11.02.2020)

–  “Tracking Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, West Africa’s most wanted jihadist”: As governments in the Sahel region, as well as the France through operation Barkhane, are bulking up their efforts to counter the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), The Africa Report paints a detailed portrait of group’s leader: Abu Walid al-Sahraoui. From his childhood in Western Sahara, to the creation of the EIGS and the further integration of the group into the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAS) in 2019, this article is a comprehensive biography of al-Sahraoui. (The Africa Report, 12.02.2020).

–  “The enduring legacy of French and Belgian Islamic State foreign fighters”: As a significant number of French and Belgium foreign fighters still in Iraq and Syria are likely to look for opportunities to travel back home, there have been concerns that their returns could pose significant security threats. This article raises concerns that, due to perceived weaknesses within the French and Belgium penitentiary system, there is a risk that foreign fighters might radicalise other inside prison. To appropriately deal with this pressing question, the authors argue that there is a need for France and Belgium to rethink their existing policies regarding foreign fighters, from extradition to penitentiary policies. (Gartenstein-Ross, Clarke and Chace-Donahue, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 05.02.2020)


Tech policy

Regulator Ofcom to have more powers over UK social media”When it comes to online “harmful” content, tech platforms have for the most part been self-regulating, developing their own content moderation policies. This might be about to change in the UK as the government is to grant Ofcom, which already regulates television and radio broadcasters, new powers to regulate tech companies in response to the Online Harms Consultation carried out in the UK last year. Ofcom will therewith be in a position to pressure tech companies to regulate “harmful” content and ensure that it is removed rapidly. (BBC News, 12.02.2020) 

– “The rise of content cartels”: As the debate around illegal and harmful online content, including terrorist content, has increased in profile over the past few years, a number of industry collaboration schemes have been created to foster cooperation between tech companies to tackle this threat. Although collaboration has been effective in the counterterrorism field (the piece mentions Tech Against Terrorism’s work with JustPaste.it as an example), author Evelyn Douek highlights potential concerns around the implications for online speech that such initiatives may have without the appropriate oversight, and traces how what she calls ‘content cartels’ came into being. (Douek, Knight Columbia, 11.02.2020) 

– Documenting during internet shutdowns”: In response to a global increase in internet shutdowns, which have taken various forms from the blockage of specific platforms to total internet blackouts, Witness has published a series of practical tips to document human rights violations during shutdowns. (Witness, 31.01.2020) 


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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.