On 28 April 2022, the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) published its first ever Digital Violent Extremism Report, which provides insight into New Zealand’s efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism (TVE) online. Tech Against Terrorism commends the New Zealand government for publishing a transparency report containing detailed metrics and information about how the DIA identifies TVE content online and collaborates with tech platforms to remove such content.
Transparency reporting on counterterrorism efforts significantly illuminates the extent to which human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected when tackling terrorist use of the internet. Since several governments are actively engaged in facilitating the removal of terrorist content online, it is crucial that they also publish transparency reports on their online counterterrorism efforts in order to ensure accountability to their citizens and internet users. To improve government transparency in this area, Tech Against Terrorism launched in 2021 our Guidelines On Transparency Reporting On Online Counterterrorism Efforts. The Guidelines are used by Tech Against Terrorism to evaluate tech platform transparency efforts as part of our Mentorship Programme, and also establish general requirements for reporting on tech platform transparency. Below we provide an assessment of New Zealand’s transparency report according to our Guidelines.
Leading the way towards greater government transparency
With this report, New Zealand has set an example for other countries to follow in achieving greater meaningful transparency on online counterterrorism efforts. Whilst governments are increasingly demanding that tech companies be more transparent on their counterterrorism and content moderation efforts, with mandates to provide such reports often written into law, few governments have themselves reached the level of transparency they require from providers in the private sector.1While both Australia and Europol’s Internet Referral Unit publish transparency reports that provide some information on their respective online counterterrorism efforts, neither do so in a manner that comes close to satisfying the requirements detailed in our Guidelines Globally, little to no information is published by governments and law enforcement agencies on how they identify terrorist and violent extremist content, how they work with tech companies to have such content removed, and on what legal basis identification and takedown is justified. Given the expectation for tech platforms to be transparent and accountable in countering terrorist content and behaviour, governments should lead by example and publish regular transparency reports rather than placing the onus of transparency on tech companies.
Tech Against Terrorism’s assessment of New Zealand’s digital violent extremism report
Commendably, New Zealand’s first transparency report satisfies most of the criteria in our Guidelines. Transparency is a process of which reporting is an outcome, and New Zealand sets a great example by explaining the multiple processes and mechanisms behind the metrics included in this first transparency report.
Our review of New Zealand’s transparency report shows that the Department of Internal Affairs includes all information and metrics recommended by Tech Against Terrorism, except those regarding decisions to remove content which are appealed and otherwise contested. We recommend that in future reports New Zealand include metrics on appeals received, allowed, and dismissed to reinforce its accountability to online users. We also recommend that New Zealand outline what redress mechanisms are available, and how clearly and publicly they are advertised, to contest a DIA-led content removal.