The United Nations has released a report, titled "The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes," setting detailed guidelines for Member States in the fight against terrorism carried out through online channels. The document covers a vast amount of general information regarding not only how the internet can be used to assist terrorist acts, but also how the same tool can effectively be utilized in the fight against the opposition. While many vulnerabilities addressed within are common knowledge for those familiar with the platform — such as propaganda via message boards, websites, and videos — the main purpose of the report is to establish a common understanding of what can and should be done to prevent future occurrences, while also addressing how investigation and prosecution should be carried out.
"States are obliged to establish policies and legislative frameworks to facilitate international cooperation"
The intent of the UN's report may be helpful in building a foundation for many States, but the organization makes it clear that the contents within the document are just guidelines, and that it is not meant to be taken as definitive law. As stated in the report, "'Universal' legal instruments are agreements that are open for ratification or accession by all Member States of the United Nations. The duty to bring perpetrators of acts of terrorism to justice rests primarily with domestic authorities, as international tribunals do not generally have jurisdiction over such acts."
As expected, the UN stresses the importance of partnerships between its Member States and how experiences from each nation can be used to set examples. For instance, a number of previous legal cases are addressed in the document, which show how litigation was carried out in instances of internet-based terrorism. The report also points out different governing bodies and national cybercrime units that have been established by many of the States. In addition to formal governmental partnerships, the private sector is included as an important element in the fight against terrorism, such as internet service providers, sites that host user generated content, and internet search engines.
"Appropriate safeguards must be in place to prevent abuse of secret surveillance tools"
While the well-documented landscape of the internet creates a myriad of ways in which illegal activity can be tracked, the United Nations is very clear about defending the privacy of users and the right to fair trial. In general, privacy concerns appear to be one of the biggest hurdles for the organization, even making mention of the United States' First Amendment that grants freedom of speech. Again, this is where enforcement by individual nations is of the utmost importance, especially since a few questionable methods of tracking are mentioned, such as the implementation of keystroke loggers and Wi-Fi packet sniffers.
In its entirety, the United Nations' report addresses many major issues that can surely be used to effectively battle terrorism in the age of the internet. Even with this bountiful information, however, the guidelines' overall effectiveness remains to be seen as enforcement rests completely on the Member States. To take an in-depth look at "The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes," the 158-page document is available for public viewing.