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Reader's Digest – 13 November 2020

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

Webinar alert! 

How can UN agencies support the counterterrorism efforts of smaller tech platforms whilst safeguarding human rights and freedom of expression? What are the existing avenues of cooperation between tech platforms and intergovernmental organisations? Our panel of UN representatives will address this question and present on their work in our upcoming webinar on Wednesday, 9 December, 4pm GMT. You can register here.
Organised in partnership with UN CTED. 

When tackling terrorist use of the internet, is content removal really our only option? Our upcoming webinar - on Wednesday, 16 December, at 5pm GMT - will look at what alternative steps tech companies can take. We have an exciting panel of experts and practitioners lined up – don’t forget to register here

Top Stories

  • We published an article on Vox-Pol this week about our Terrorist Content Analytics Platform (TCAP). This is in response to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) article on One Database To Rule Them All: The Invisible Content Cartel that Undermines the Freedom of Expression Online, and details how the TCAP is developed to address the concerns raised by the EFF. 
  • The Global Network on Extremism & Technology (GNET) has released a report titled “Migration Moments: Extremist Adoption of Text-Based Instant Messaging Applications”.
  • Hope not Hate has published a report on their recommendations for government regulation of tech platforms against online harms: A Better Web: Regulating to Reduce Far-Right Hate Online.
  • The Trilogue on the EU’s regulation against online terrorist content, which was set to be completed this week, has according to reports been postponed until next week.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism have written a letter to the EU Council regarding the new draft regulation on preventing the dissemination of Terrorism Content Online. They note that, despite a number of positive proposed changes that the draft incorporated from the UN Special Rapporteurs' suggestions in 2018-19, there remain some serious risks for fundamental rights in the text currently under discussion.
  • Civil society groups have also submitted an open letter on the new draft regulation on preventing the dissemination of Terrorism Content Online, in which they call for stronger fundamental rights safeguards from EU legislators.
  • Militant Islamists murdered more than 50 people in northern Mozambique this week. These atrocities are the latest in a series of gruesome attacks that militants have carried out in Cabo Delgado province since 2017.
  • The Austrian police has carried out coordinated raids in the country to arrest 40 neo-Nazis suspected of illegal activity online, on the grounds of contravening the country’s ban of neo-Nazi ideology and of inciting hatred. 
  • Austria’s Supreme Court has ruled that Facebook “must remove comments that are defamatory in Austria worldwide”, potentially expanding a local jurisdiction to apply globally for the social media. Facebook has thus lost its appeal on the case, which it based on the argument that such comments could be protected speech in other countries. More about this landmark ruling and the implications of local jurisdiction going global here

    Facebook also had to comply to a similar ruling in Brazil earlier this summer, you can read more about this in our dedicated Online Regulation Series’ blogpost.  
  • Tech Policy

  • Speculation over EU end-to-end encryption ban sparked by leaked memo: In this piece, Ellen Daniel analyses the leaked draft resolution written by the Council of the European Union, which has recently sparked speculation that the EU is considering a ban on end-to-end-encryption. The document says it fully supports “the development, implementation and use of strong encryption”, while recognising that it can make accessing evidence for law enforcement challenging or practically impossible. The draft resolution stresses the importance of protecting the privacy and security of communications through encryption, while at the same time upholding the possibility for authorities to lawfully access relevant data for legitimate, clearly defined purposes. However, Daniel notes that the document does not lay out specific plans for achieving this. In doing so, she highlights that the document does not propose an outright ban on end-to-end encryption, nor does it specifically mention backdoors, as has been speculated in previous days. Instead, according to Daniel, it calls for “a better balance” between upholding end-to-end encryption and allowing “competent authorities” to “access data in a lawful and targeted manner”. (Daniel, Verdict, 11.11.2020)

    You can read EDRi and AccessNow’s open letter responding to the leaked draft resolution here
  • Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

  • The new face of terror in the US: In this Insights piece, Simon Purdue provides a detailed overview of the US-based neo-Nazi group, National Socialist Order (NSO), and its online presence. Purdue begins by developing on the “habit of shapeshifting” among violent right-wing extremists and terrorists to maintain “ideologically continuity” in response to governments’ proscriptions or to when left leaderless following arrests. He then reminds us that NSO was born out of such shapeshifting following the arrests of senior members of Atomwaffen Division (AWD), a neo-Nazi group which became known for its violent accelerationist ideology, and which has been linked to multiple murders and terrorist plots. Purdue explains that NSO first appeared online this summer, using AWD imagery, as well as its lexicology of accelerationism and belief in building an Aryan only world – one of the most radical ideologies of far-right violent extremism. Purdue develops on the readings and imagery shared by the group, which includes anti-Semitic content, infamous far-right terrorist manifestos, and influential books such as the Turner Diaries. He concludes this piece by calling on academics and law enforcement, as well as community activists, to keep “a close eye on the new face of accelerationist terrorism in the United States” and on the important security threat NSO's leaderless resistance approach represents. (Purdue, CARR, 12.11.2020) 
  • This week we’re listening to the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right’s (CARR) podcast on Artificial Intelligence and Far Right Radicalization where Augusta Dell'Omo is joined by guest Ashton Kingdon to break down the connections between Artificial Intelligence and far-right radicalisation online. 

    Islamist terrorism

  • Jihadist Networks Dig In on Social Media Across Central Asia: Kumar Bekbolotov, Robert Muggah and Rafal Rohozinski provide an overview of the online Islamist radicalisation and terrorist landscape in Central Asia. They note that terrorism is not new to the region, which has seen thousands of foreign fighters joining conflict zones and nationals conducting attacks abroad (including in New York, St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Istanbul). However, they link the “new generation of digital extremists” to the “digital transformation” the region has experienced in the last decade, with widespread internet connection and social media use,  to the “fertile soil” Central Asia offers for terrorist groups – a young population and certain limitations in terms of social mobility opportunities and outlets for political expression. The authors further underline that whilst terrorism in Central Asia is homegrown, it is also linked to a broader network of terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, Islamic State (IS) and the Taliban. Lastly, they analyse the online landscape, which has an estimated audience of about a million users. This space is characterised by the multiplicity of platforms used, the predominance of Russian as a lingua franca, the spread of “sophisticated extremist content in their native language”, and finally, terrorists’ capacity to play “cat and mouse” with online platforms and intelligence services. They conclude that this online phenomenon can only be tackled by including offline components, and via cross-sector collaborations involving governments, civil society and online platforms. (Bekbolotov, Muggah, Rohozinski, Foreign Policy, 11.10.2020) 
  • Counterterrorism

  • EU States Push for Tougher Measures to Tackle Terrorism: In this piece, Nicolas Pinault discusses European leaders pushing for tougher measures to tackle terrorism in the EU, following recent attacks in southern France and Austria. According to Pinault, pressure has been building ahead of the talks between Emmanuel Macron and Sebastian Kurz for greater cooperation between members and for the EU to take the lead on counterterrorism. President Macron has said he would expand police and military presence at France’s borders. He has also said that he intends to lead some initiatives to improve control outside EU borders, such as reforming the Schengen Agreement, which governs free movement within the Schengen Area. Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, has suggested the EU should adopt a version of the USA Patriot Act, which gives security agencies greater surveillance powers. Yet, Pinault questions if these suggestions are “doable in Europe, a continent which has embraced protection of civil liberties for decades”. (Pinault, VOA, 09.11.2020)
  • Preempting the storm: DOJ moves to tackle terrorist and criminal use of cryptocurrencies with bolder international approach: Andrew Mines dwells on the US Department of Justice’s new framework for cryptocurrency regulation, Cryptocurrency: An Enforcement Framework, which was announced recentlyIn particular, Mines focuses on the parts of the framework dedicated to terrorist financing and what this will mean for countering terrorist use of cryptocurrencies globally. Mines notes that whilst “current terrorist use of cryptocurrencies appears marginal”, Islamist terrorists and far-right violent extremists in the US have both been experimenting with cryptocurrencies to finance themselves and terrorist organisations – including the case of a woman who was indicted for bank fraud and money laundering in support of Islamic State. He continues by underlining that, despite efforts from various governmental and intergovernmental organisations, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), financial agencies had been lacking a “cohering stance” on cryptocurrencies at the international level. With the current use of cryptocurrencies by terrorists being “the first raindrops of an oncoming storm of expanded use”, Mines underlines that the new framework has the advantage of extending a “clear U.S regulatory approach” with a global reach that will help financial agencies in the US and their global partners respond to terrorist use of cryptocurrencies and pre-empt future issues of widespread use. (Mines, GNET, 11.10.2020) 
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