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Big ISPs to Add ‘Report a Terrorist’ Button and Block Related Websites

Friday, November 14th, 2014 (3:11 pm) - Score 1,931

The United Kingdom’s largest four broadband ISPs, including BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk, have reached an agreement with the Government to block their customers from accessing terrorist and extremist material on the Internet. The ISPs will also offer a reporting button so that the public can notify providers when new sites crop up (we’re sure nobody will spam that with comical suggestions).

The Government has long called for “extremist” content to be blocked using Internet filtering technologies, which began in 2011 with the anti-terrorism Prevent Strategy (here) and cropped up again at the end of 2013 as part of a report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism (here).

No doubt few right-minded people would have any serious objection to the principle of blocking websites that clearly contain terrorist material or which encourage related acts, although it’s always vital to consider context as otherwise ISPs might also end up blocking legitimate content.

Similarly there are concerns about how politicians might choose to define “extremism“, especially given that an MP for the Conservative Party recently told the boss of AAISP, Adrian Kennard, that a future government “is likely to contain a commitment to introduce Extremist Disruption Orders (EDO), which seek to restrict the harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws” (here).

Descriptions like the one above could just as easily apply to a juvenile Internet troll, or any one of us posting via Facebook on a really bad day, as they could to the leader of ISIL. Pushing further and there’s a fear that clubs for model rocket builders or fireworks developers could end up being blocked alongside more serious jihadist material, since the former touches on chemical compounds that might be considered ‘explosive’. Come to think of it, we might want to block chemistry and physics in schools in-case.. learning.

On top of that Internet filters, even the network-level ones currently being provided by the largest ISPs, remain extremely easy to circumvent (not much can be done about that one, short of physically removing the material at source; not so easy if the content is hosted outside of the UK) and it’s therefore perhaps unrealistic to think that those who share “extremist” views would not also know how to circumvent the blocks.

Questions also remain over how the new system for reporting terrorist websites will be run, although we get the impression that the plan might be to setup a specific webpage for it (one on each ISPs website) and related reports would then go through to the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU).

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We have had productive dialogue with Government about addressing the issue of extremist content online and we are working through the technical details.”

A TalkTalk Spokesperson said:

We are committed to working with the Government to help address extremist content and are exploring ways to achieve this.”

The fact that the aforementioned ISPs haven’t been immediately able to provide us with a comment until mid-afternoon suggests that some of the details have yet to be worked out, which is alluded to in BT’s remark above. We will update again when others respond.

In the meantime it’s not currently clear when these new measures will be introduced. Privately some big ISPs are known to have expressed.. reservations.

UPDATE 9:38pm

Added a comment from TalkTalk above.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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