Online giants 'must help in anti-terror fight'

Construction of an anti-terrorist wall, to protect the Federal Chancellery and Presidential Chancellery in Vienna from terror attacks, has been halted, said the Austrian daily Krone. Officials from four Western powers say there is a need for new appr
Construction of an anti-terrorist wall, to protect the Federal Chancellery and Presidential Chancellery in Vienna from terror attacks, has been halted, said the Austrian daily Krone. Officials from four Western powers say there is a need for new approaches to detecting threats, with a focus on sources like social media.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Western officials want more support to detect potential threats as lone-wolf attacks rise

WASHINGTON • As militant attacks worldwide are increasingly being carried out by home-grown "lone wolves", top counter-terrorism chiefs of four Western powers have appealed for more support from social media companies to detect potential threats.

Traditional intelligence methods are foiling large-scale plots coordinated from abroad but they are not enough to uncover attacks by self-radicalised individuals, like those this year in Britain that have killed dozens, the officials said.

The anti-terror chiefs from the United States, Britain, Germany and Canada were attending the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington on Thursday.

Mr Paddy McGuinness, the British deputy national security adviser for intelligence, said many countries were still too focused on foreign-derived attacks planned or directed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Al-Qaeda.

Referring to the four attacks in Britain this year, he said: "We are dealing with conspiracies that really do not involve an overseas element.

"We're dealing with a problem in our communities, with people who do not travel, and become radicalised and move to violence... These were British plots by British people."

Mr Christian Rousseau, head of Canada's Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, called it a shift to "Terrorism 3.0" as ISIS reels from battlefield defeats in Iraq and Syria.

THE BARRIER OF ENCRYPTION

We can see the invitation, but we can't see the conversation afterwards. Encryption is stopping us from seeing the whole picture.

'MR CHRISTIAN ROUSSEAU, head of Canada's Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, on how potential attackers and their ISIS coaches usually move to the encrypted "dark Web" to talk.

"The generation of terrorism that is now most impactful in Canada is the inspired or enabled terrorism," he said. Those are people who self-radicalise or radicalise online, then decide to launch an attack.

"We're in a world that's even more difficult because not only can we not deter them... but there are no signs to help us deal with this," he said.

In Germany, too, attacks trend towards self-radicalised, "inspired lone wolves", said Mr Friedrich Grommes, head of the international terrorism division of the German Federal Intelligence Service.

The officials also spoke about the need for new approaches to detecting threats, with a focus on sources like social media. But tough privacy laws and the protections enjoyed by the largely American Internet and social media giants were impeding the authorities in their ability to ferret out lone-wolf threats, they said.

Mr McGuinness said he wanted to see more proactive support from Facebook, Google and other online giants with the ability to conduct large-scale automated scanning of users for possible threats.

He also called on the US to pass laws to lift a ban on American Internet companies responding to terror-related search warrants from the foreign law authorities.

More than 95 per cent of crime and terror cases involved people using an American technology application, he said.

Potential attackers and their ISIS coaches usually move to the encrypted "dark Web" to talk, Mr Rousseau said. "We can see the invitation, but we can't see the conversation afterwards. Encryption is stopping us from seeing the whole picture," he added.

Even in Germany, where privacy protections are especially strong, there is increasing understanding of the need for more access by counter-terror investigators, Mr Grommes said.

"ISIL is vanishing from the soil and going cyber," he said, using another acronym for ISIS. "There is a growing understanding that we have to adjust our legislation to the European level... to assert the balance between protecting privacy and discovering illegal things like international terrorism."

Mr Nick Rasmussen, director of the US National Counterterrorism Centre, said the American authorities are having more success by pumping large amounts of evidence of potential Islamist activity to the social media companies themselves, to press them to take action unilaterally.

"We are going to make sure we burden them with knowledge about how their tools, their technologies, their platforms are being used," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'Online giants 'must help in anti-terror fight''. Print Edition | Subscribe