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Reader's Digest - 12 June

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

Tech policy

The Technology 202: Amazon's move to temporarily bar police from using its facial recognition software could have long-term consequences:This article, by Cat Zakrzewski and Tonya Riley, discusses Amazon putting a moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, Rekognition. It comes as a result of the anti-racism protests sweeping through America that have sparked a debate around police violence. Whilst the company’s statement clarifies that the moratorium only concerns police use of the software, Zakrzewski and Riley point out the lasting consequences of Amazon’s move on the wider debate around facial recognition. They indicate how Amazon’s decision might increase scrutiny of other software currently used by the police, and highlights how people of colour are  more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition software, which they stress needs to be addressed before this technology is to be used. Finally the articles stresses that Amazon‘s decision has put further pressure on the US Congress to introduce improved legislation surrounding facial recognition software to safeguard civil rights and liberties. (Zakrzewski and Riley, The Washington Post, 11.06.2020)

Since this article was written, Microsoft has followed Amazon and IBM’s move, announcing that it will no longer allow its facial recognition technology to be used by police in the US until there is federal legislation regulating it. You can read more about it here.

On this topic, we are also listening to: 

All about Section 230: What it does and doesn’t say (a16z Podcast, 09.06.2020)

Islamist terrorism

The future of the Islamic State’s Women: assessing their potential threatIn this piece, Jessica Davies analyses the threat posed by the Islamic State’s (IS) female members and provides recommendations for counterterrorism practitioners. Davies points to the variety of roles women held in IS and how these roles involved a range of different training regimes, meaning that the women returning to their home countries will inevitably differ in the extent to which they are potential threats. Davies also shows how gendered reporting around women who have joined IS, especially through the conflation of “women and children”, risks denying women’s agency and can lead to bias in counterterrorism practices. In light of this, she introduces the following recommendations: gender awareness training for counterterrorism practitioners; standardised threat assessments that allows intelligence gathering to not be impacted by the assumption that women and men are respectively seen as innocent and culpable based solely on their gender; create awareness on how to take gender into consideration when reporting on women in terrorism; and finally to avoid conflating women and children when assessing threat and culpability. She concludes by stressing that these recommendations will also help with assessing the risk and role of the men of IS. (Davies, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, 08.06.2020)

The death of Droukdel: implications for AQIM and the Sahel: Julie Coleman and Méryl Demuynck analyse the impact of the death of Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, the now former leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Coleman and Demuynck analyse how the resilience, flexibility, and adaptive nature of AQIM means that Droukdel’s death will have limited impact on the group. Droukdel was known for leading the evolution of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) into AQIM. With regard to a new AQIM leader, Coleman and Demuynck stress that ethnicity might be an important factor. Although the group started out in Algeria, its territorial expansion might complicate a continued Algerian leadership. Finally, Coleman and Demuynck stress that the existing and worsening rivalry with other terrorist groups in the Sahel, such as the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), will be a more important factor in predicting AQIM’s future than the neutralisation of Droukdel. (Coleman and Demuynck, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, 09.06.20).

To learn more about the Islamism terrorism landscape in the Sahel: Three prominent jihadists dominate Sahel after death of al Qaeda leader (France24, 08.06.2020)

George Floyd death: Al-Qaeda tries to exploit US unrest:After having attempted to capitalise on the Covid-19 crisis in the US, al-Qaeda (AQ) is now trying to frame itself as “champions of the oppressed" and exploit the social unrest that has followed the murder of George Floyd. In this article, Frank Gardner – in discussion with Mina Al-Lami, a jihadist media specialist at BBC Monitoring, and Dr Shiraz Maher, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation – analyses this exploitation. The article notably stresses that in its exploitation of the protests in the US, AQ is predicting a collapse of the country and is trying to convert Americans to its ideology. This strategy contrast with the Islamic State’s reaction to the US protests, which  appears to be “simply […]  gloating at America’s discomfort”. (Gardner, BBC News, 11.06.2020)

On this topic, we are listening to: 

We also tweeted about this:

-Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

– RCMP adding incels to terrorism awareness guideStewart Bell reports that the incel movement is now considered a form of violent extremism by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). This decision follows the prosecution of a 17-year old man accused of committing an incel-motivated attack in February of this year, which marks the first time that Canada’s terrorism laws have been used for an incel-motivated act. Canada is also amending its “Terrorism and Violent Extremism Awareness Guide” to include incels. Bell also speaks to Colin Clarke, a Senior Research Fellow at the Soufan Centre, who says that due to Covid-19, there is a worrying trend of increasingly younger minors – from 9 years old – engaging with these communities online. In addition, Clarke points out how the violent far-right would have benefitted from receiving attention at an earlier stage. (Bell, Global News, 08.06.2020).

– I predict a riot: an analysis of white supremacist propaganda in the wake of the George Floyd murder: In this piece, Ashton Kingdon analyses how white supremacists are exploiting the death of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests in the US to propagate for accelerationist and racist aims. Far-right violent extremist groups have also been seen attending these protests, notably the Boogaloo movement, exploiting social unrest in a similar manner to their participation in anti-lockdown protests. Here, Kingdon takes an in-depth look at how neo-Nazis have been discussing and framing the Black Lives Matter protests online. According to Kingdon, chatter appears to mostly be centred around accelerationism and promotion of a race war – which the groups Kingdon examines see as necessary to further the collapse of society. Kingdon explores the origins of accelerationism and the prominence of anti-government rhetoric amongst neo-Nazi circles, and how this is reflected in neo-Nazi exploitation of the US protests. Kingdon also provides an analysis of the propaganda images (including memes) used by neo-Nazis, and how some of the images used employ “caricature stereotypes that hark back to the days of Jim Crow.” (Kingdon, CARR, 10.06.2020)

On this topic, we are listening to: 

Gardiens de la paix (in French) (Maad, Arte Podcast, 04.06.2020)

We also tweeted about this:

Facebook removes nearly 200 accounts tied to hate groups (Klepper, APNews, 06.06.2020)
You can find Brian Fishman’s, Director of Counterterrorism and Dangerous Organisations at Facebook, comment on this article  here

‘White jIhad’ Jack Renshaw’s journey from far-right student to would be terrorist (CST, 2020)
Our tweet and comment


Commission for Countering Extremism launches a legal review to examine effectiveness of existing legislation relevant to hateful extremismThe UK’s independent Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) has launched a legal review to analyse the effectiveness of existing legislation aimed at countering hateful extremism. The lead commissioner, Sara Khan, has appointed the former UK head of counterterrorism policing, Sir Mark Rowley, to lead the inquiry. Khan and Rowley both said that whilst individuals who commit terrorist offences are effectively prosecuted under existing counterterrorism legislation, individuals who spread hate or engage in extremism are not as effectively regulated by counter extremism legislation. Therefore, the CCE hopes that this legal review can identify the gaps in existing legislation and make practical recommendations for the legislation to comply with existing legal and human rights standards. (UK Government, 10.06.20)

Court challenge awaits Duterte-backed anti-terror legislationThe Philippine Congress has approved the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which has now been sent to the President’s office to be passed into law. However, this new legislation has raised concerns amongst human rights groups, Ted Regencia reports. The legislation poses “serious constitutional questions”, especially with regard to fundamental rights, according to Senator Francis Pangilinan who opposes the law. Regencia stresses that the law would allow for an anti-terror council to arrest people without warrants “meaning the council could be tasked to determine what constitutes terrorism”, normally reserved for courts according to the Constitution. Another important concern raised is that individuals accused of inciting, participating in, or facilitating terrorist attacks could now be imprisoned for life without parole. For opponents of the law, it “violate[s] the bill of rights of citizens enshrined under the Constitution”, and is a tool “to silence criticism” according to leading academics in the country. (Regencia, Al Jazeera, 09.06.2020)

This upcoming legislation has also been criticised for threatening freedom of the press in the country, which you can read more about here.