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UK Government report into religious radicalization calls on ISPs to remove terrorist content

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A British government report into how terrorism can be fostered by websites has suggested that ISPs should take on some of the burden of removing sites that promote religious fundamentalism.

Downing Street WhiteHall_1020
Downing Street WhiteHall_1020

A British government report on the roots of religious radicalization and terrorism has called for ISPs to self-regulate potentially illegal content that incites terrorism, suggesting that contrary to the results of research published in November last year, the internet "features in most, if not all, of the routes of radicalization."

The UK currently has a Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, which allows internet users to report sites that contain content that could incite terrorism or religious fundamentalism for further investigation. However, the effectiveness of this unit has been seriously questioned in the report, with it being described by Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Sir Norman Bettisson as "a pebble thrown into the world wide web ocean." In order to get illegal content removed faster and more often, the committee suggests that ISPs should be more responsible for enforcing their own behavioural codes, and removing illegal content. The report quotes Charles Farr, head of the office of Security and Counter-Terrorism as saying,

"Every internet service provider (ISP) has acceptable behaviour codes for use on their systems. So having that conversation, even where the website is operating in a broadly legal space, is not unusual for them. Governments all around the world have those conversations with ISPs every day, and the public will very often make their own representations to ISPs about particularly unacceptable content that may still be legal on websites around the world."

This global challenge — how to address and remove content hosted on foreign sites — is a particular focus of the report, concluding that only with greater international cooperation will policies such as this be enforceable. While the committee encourages active removal by ISPs, it doesn't seem to have a plan of how this should be achieved — a spokesperson told ZDNet that he was unable to explain how MPs envisaged the takedown working.

The Internet Service Providers Association told ZDNet that it welcomed the findings, particularly the focus on global cooperation, however it seems not to accept that ISPs should bear greater responsibility. It comments in the report that "ISPs are not best placed to determine what constitutes violent extremism and where the line should be drawn." This leads to questions over who should act as the watchdog for what is being filtered and the standard that all ISPs should work upon.