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UK ISPs Respond to Prime Minister’s Call for Clampdown on Internet “Extremism”

Monday, June 5th, 2017 (5:47 pm) - Score 1,911

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has today warned the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, that there is a risk of “unintended consequences that could undermine our defences” if she forces through aggressive new measures to tackle online “extremism“.

Tragically London was hit by yet another significant terrorist incident over the weekend and politicians from all sides promptly condemned the attack, although the Prime Minister also went one further by saying “enough is enough” and pledging that, if re-elected, she would press forward with tough new measures to stop terrorists from abusing the Internet.

Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, said:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet – and the big companies that provide internet-based services – provide. We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

As usual there was a distinct lack of detail in May’s speech, although she does appear keen to pursue companies that use end-to-end encryption to protect private communications, such as by forcing them to hand over the content of those chats. But for that to work those companies would need to weaken encryption and we’ll come back to that later.

The recent Conservative Party manifesto (here) also included vague references to tackling online bullying and “horrific content,” which always sounds fair on the surface but often ends up overlooking the realities of human behaviour and how the internet / ISPs actually work. Once again we don’t yet have any real details of the policy.

At the same time both Internet CONTENT and Internet ACCESS providers (each requires a different approach but sadly UK laws are often generalised for both) have warned that they already put a huge effort into tackling such content.

A Spokesperson for the ISPA said:

“We condemn the attacks that took place on Saturday night and our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

The Internet industry takes this issue very seriously, and together with relevant authorities and civil society, continually looks to improve processes and ways of removing content. Significant steps have been taken over recent months and years to limit the ability of terrorists to misuse the internet and social media.

The UK Government and the security services already have substantial powers in this area and the Internet industry complies with the laws and regulations in the UK and elsewhere. When considering the need for more powers to regulate the Internet, policymakers need to be fully aware of the effectiveness of existing powers, resources to deal with the threat and the impact any new measures may have, including unintended consequences that could undermine our defences – for instance the weakening of cyber security.

Technology is only one part of the wider approach to dealing with radicalisation, which is a complex international challenge that requires an international response.”

Arguably the Government has already moved a bulldozer onto the lawn by successfully passing the Investigatory Powers Act (IPAct) into law, although this still hasn’t been fully implemented due to some complex legal, cost and technical challenges where the Government has yet to provide a complete answer (example).

In other words, it could be argued that the security services already have a wealth of data at their disposal but what they lack is the manpower to monitor suspects in the off-line world, which is incredibly difficult to resolve. We recall one police force saying that it’s possible for up to 60 offices to be involved with the monitoring of just a single individual and if you have thousands of potential targets.. trouble.

The question of tackling end-to-end encryption is similarly difficult. Encryption is of course used all over the place, for everything from securing your credit card transactions to keeping your messages private. It is an essential tool and one that only works if the decryption keys are kept hidden, sometimes even from the service owner.

As security experts so often warn, you can’t allow one state or group to have special access and then expect that not to be abused by others (e.g. hackers or less democratic countries). On this point the Government are perhaps guilty of not being very worldly, since weakening the encryption supplied by British firms will do little to stop its use by criminals or terrorists.

Encryption is not Apple, Facebook or Twitter. Encryption is a method that anybody or country can setup and use. A clever terrorist probably has better ways to keep in touch with their fellow nut-jobs than to post a message on Twitter or Facebook, although the latter do make for useful promotional tools.

On that front Internet firms face the same impossible challenge to their resources as the police. In the online world a single person can easily setup a website that allows hundreds of thousands of people to communicate and this is one of the key ways in which the online and off-line world differs.

For example, Twitter has 313 million “active” users but only 3,860 employees. Obviously that means that when such companies are forced to filter then they often have to become increasingly reliant upon automated systems, which are just as likely to stifle free speech as they are to tackle terrorist content.

Lest we forget that there’s also the very problem of how you define “extremism” in the first place and then separate it from criticism of the same subject, satire, the right to cause offence and so forth (context is very important). On that point we’ll finish by quoting from the boss of UK ISP Andrews and Arnold (AAISP).

Adrian Kennard, Managing Director of AAISP, said:

“What we see cries for is to pull the extremism from the internet. This is hard, the extremism is exploiting religion. Even our own state religion (Church of England) has many dark things in the bible – things that will definitely count as extremist texts. To ban extremism is pretty much to ban religion – because religion is extreme – it is to believe something with no evidence.

That may sound sensible to many, but sadly it has been seen not to work – once a meme is out there, especially one as old as most religions, banning it has the opposite effect and creates underground movements and followers. You have to tollerate it, allow it, tax it, much like alcohol. Banning it won’t work.

But even if you wanted to try and ban the most extreme bits, you have a massive problem, because there lies the curse of censorship and control of free speech. Where on earth do you draw the line? And how do you stop that line creeping ever closer to any thoughts that are not sanctioned by the thought police?

I really feel free speech, and freedom of expression, even by religious groups, is a human right we should not be compromising – especially at a time like this.”

Leave a Comment
17 Responses
  1. Avatar baby_frogmella says:

    Does anyone know if Her Majesty’s GCHQ can crack a double hop Openvpn 256 bit AES connection? This is what I use on my dd-wrt router buf no idea if its totally bulletproof.

    1. Avatar GeneralLee says:

      On the subject of VPN’s, I would consider this to be an even harder job to monitor now as so many people seem to be using them, albeit most only to hide illegal streaming or to get around region bars for online content….

      So security services could find themselves wasting loads of time just to catch someone watching a US streaming service.

      Which then makes me think that maybe we should be removing internet borders and also not going after people who are streaming pirated/redistributed content… that job should should be left to content creators to track the distributors and take them to court.

      Most recently I’ve been using a VPN…. only reason I’ve been using it is to view on demand programs on Virgin’s TV Anywhere (but outside UK) app :D….. so say my connection was being or had been torn to shreds by security services they surely would of been annoyed to find I was just streaming from a paid official service.

      In Canada they don’t have any issues with folks streaming pirated media through services such as Kodi add-ons, however its still deemed illegal to download torrents as they can be distributed. (Makes good sense to me)

      Internet needs encryption, but official encryption, every tom dick and harry having a VPN is surely causing a great deal of stress for security services.


    2. Avatar CarlT says:

      There is nothing either in existence right now or in the pipeline, even quantum computing, that is likely to make AES-256 breakable in a reasonable period of time.

      As long as the passphrase and function used to convert passphrase to key are solid of course.

      This is correct as of the writing of this post and to my best knowledge, which includes the latest academic goodness though obviously not anything state actors may know and keep to themselves.

    3. Avatar 125uS says:

      Encryption, as with almost all security measures, buys time.

      Very old methods can be broken in real-time, other more modern ones might require the target data to be intercepted, stored and then broken. If encryption is very strong, it’s easier to target something else – one of the devices perhaps – with key loggers, trojans, app or O/S backdoors, something of that order.

      I’d suggest that maybe using very high levels of encryption and security are rather like waving a flag – if you’re going to all that effort, what is it you have to hide?

      Computer Security 101: The only secure computer is one you built and wrote the software for, locked in a room to which only you have the key, and which isn’t connected to a network. If any of those things aren’t true you are living with risk.

  2. Avatar timeless says:

    she really has it in for the internet.. even before these events the Cons have loved the idea of controlling information..

    but lets be serious here, there are two points to the whole idea.. the first being that mass surveillance pushes criminals further underground.. after all who will use knowing that if they plan to do something against the law that will be keeping an eye on them, not to mention the fact that the system they are planning to impose will likely collect so much information that it maybe hard for security services to actually do anything with unless they plan to sell it to marketing companies…

    tho the worst part about this all and the thing l find most ironic, is all the cuts to the police forces yet somehow having access to everyones internet records will have magically stopped these attacks.. yet the fact there are less to investigate extremists doesnt play a part in current issues (because we all know whos to blame for less police on our streets).

    1. Avatar GeneralLee says:

      It’s a shame the Goverment want to know what’s going on in the country they lead and manage…. how very dare they :/

    2. Avatar CarlT says:

      It is an idiotic and ham-fisted approach.

      As with everything else every time anyone tries things like this, when a government make legitimate behaviours criminal it only inconveniences those who obey the law, criminals carry on as before.

      Mr Mclaren, privacy is a fundamental human right. If you have no problem with the government knowing everything you are doing you are more than welcome to set an example to the rest of us by installing CCTV in your home and providing your Internet history alongside all relevant encryption keys for all data to HMG.

      You may have no problem living in a pseudo-police state desperate to escape the shackles of the European Court of Human Rights so that it can carry on working its way towards 1984, I do.

      What these idiots are proposing is technically illiterate, illiberal and authoritarian, and has no place in a modern, allegedly liberal and free democracy. If the Conservatives are so desperate to rule over a Singapore or China pseudo-democracy they are more than welcome to bugger off there.

    3. Avatar GeneralLee says:


  3. Avatar Vriska1 says:

    If you want you stop this you should donate and support the Open Rights Group and vote the Tory out on June 8th


    1. Avatar Keith says:

      Worth pointing out that Labour have been pushing for the same laws so neither of the two biggest parties are worth a vote. IMO.

    2. Avatar GeneralLee says:

      I will have a cup of tea with Corbyn but that’s all, I won’t let him pretend he can direct our country through current events.

      Besides, Conservatives started Brexit and I think they should finish it, I don’t want another party getting in, screwing everything up and then just constantly saying it was the former party’s fault, like its a valid excuse.

    3. Avatar CarlT says:

      Thanks. I am voting for a party that doesn’t want those laws.

      Sadly silly things like liberalism, privacy, human rights, basic freedoms, etc, seem to have taken second place to getting rid of foreigners in the modern UK.

    4. Avatar timeless says:

      voting for the conservatives. are you mad.. while l personally voted remain, there is no way in hell we will get a good brexit deal under the Cons.. and lets not forget by the time they have finished we wont have an NHS.. they are already planning on putting out NHS contracts to american companies and we all have heard how bad american health care is…

      as for Corbyn, he has consistently been on the right side of history unlike the Tories who actually have a serving Tory councillor who actually was a member of the IRA.

  4. Avatar Martin Niemöller says:

    “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

  5. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    One small thing that every Facebook user can do is report posts that clearly fall into the category of hate messaging. Post Brexit and post Trump, Facebook is awash with them. If I quoted here what can be found on Facebook within 30 seconds, I’m sure my post wouldn’t be permitted. A mild example is the alt-right nutcase who posted a photo of his spiked ‘morning star’ ….,(http://www.1066.co.nz/Mosaic%20DVD/whoswho/text/Morning_star_weapon%5B1%5D.htm)

    …,,, and said he just couldn’t wait to use it on a Muslim. I got him taken down.

    Yes, it’s a drop in the ocean, but as they say, the ocean is made of lots of small drops. .

  6. Avatar Peter says:

    You lot on here need to go the the Middle East
    In the current “battle” over Qatar, the UAE has announced various restrictions and anyone who voices their dissatisfaction to them or expresses any support for Qatar on social media etc is to be jailed for up to 15 years or fined the equivalent of not LESS than £136000: effective immediately

    1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

      I’m not sure if you’re saying that’s a good or a bad thing.

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