UK’s top police officer slams tech companies for online mischief

Britain’s top police officer accused tech companies of not doing enough to protect users from harm in an international counterterrorism discourse.

Dame Cressida Dick, who heads the Metropolitan Police, told the 20th annual Counterterrorism Summit that vulnerable people can now be radicalized within weeks if targeted by extremists online, but said Social media companies weren’t doing enough to stop this kind of harm from taking place.

She said: “Tech companies and social media platforms have become much better at working alongside law enforcement and governments to help protect people from a wide range of online threats, and I pay homage for it.

“But there is still more they can and must do. They have the power and the resources to make a real difference.

“But they’re not doing enough to protect people from the damage that is happening on their platforms.”

She used the example of using end-to-end encryption to keep law enforcement messages secret.

“Police colleagues here in the UK have spoken at length about end-to-end encryption becoming ubiquitous on the world’s most popular social media platforms.

“This is just one example of how this wonderful ability we all now have to communicate in different ways is also not only detrimental to society, but also prevents law enforcement around the world from protecting their own. citizens.

“How are we supposed to protect children from online sexual exploitation? Or defend ourselves against the next terrorist threat if we don’t even have the power to keep evidence on servers outside of our jurisdiction? “

Dame Cressida called for greater international cooperation between law enforcement agencies and governments to engage tech companies.

She told the audience of the International Counterterrorism Institute in Israel and listening online: “How we respond to the challenges posed by supranational organizations will be crucial in tackling the terrorist threat, and if that means new regulations and regulators, or greater collaboration from those with the power to make a difference, we cannot allow the status quo to continue.

Some extremists aim to radicalize young people or vulnerable people online to carry out less complicated attacks using knives or vehicles rather than higher risk bomb plots.

Dame Cressida told delegates: “In the past, perhaps recruiting children or people with mental health problems would have been an unacceptable risk when attempting to carry out a complex bomb plot.

“But when you are just trying to nudge vulnerable people into direct, crass action such as a random knife attack, the opposite is true.”

She told the audience that children and vulnerable people can be radicalized within weeks if they are successfully targeted by extremists online.

“These low-sophistication attacks inspired by the proliferation of extremist material online can reduce the process of radicalization and attack planning from years to weeks, dramatically narrowing the window law enforcement has to identify and neutralize. the threat.”

More young people in the UK have been attracted to terrorism, with 13% of terrorism suspects arrested in the year to March 31 being under 18, more than triple the proportion from the previous year .

Police have also seen the number of terrorism arrests for all age groups except children drop during the pandemic.

Police at the scene after last year’s terrorist attack at Streatham High Road in south London by Sudesh Amman (Aaron Chown / PA)

Dame Cressida said that while the number of referrals to Prevent, an anti-radicalization program, halved during the first lockdown in 2020, they have now reached higher than usual levels and the forces of the order have “a record level of case processing”.

She said: “Covid-19 has created an environment, certainly in the UK, in which extremists can find it easier to identify, target and potentially radicalize vulnerable people.

“He did this by exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, stoking mistrust of authority and inspiring a new wave of conspiracy theories that more easily reached the general public.

“Not only that, but the longer-term impacts such as unemployment and financial uncertainty caused or exacerbated by the pandemic are exactly the issues in people’s lives that extremists can cling to when seeking to radicalize. .

“If you add to that the increased social isolation that people have experienced over the past 18 months and a reduction in support services such as mental health and social care during the long periods of the so-called lockdown,” it’s a potent blend that is of real concern.

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