Monthly Legal Newsletter (June 2017): Online Radicalisation and the Law

Online radicalisation and the law

Islamic groups such as ISIL/ISIS are presently the principle threat to the UK’s security[1].   We know that terrorist groups are increasingly using information and communication technology to recruit and radicalise those susceptible individuals in a purposeful and exacting manner[2] in order to grow their support base.  This seems like an obvious communication strategy[3] for terrorist recruiters and as the Internet has historically had few regulations[4], they have undertaken much of this radicalisation under the radar of various law enforcement agencies[5].  This has been the focus of much justified attention in the UK[6] and the importance highlighted with the creation of agencies such as Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (‘CITRU’); and the advent of the Government’s strategy on counter terrorism: ‘CONTEST’[7]; pursuant to, the relevant statutory provisions of Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (‘CTSA 2015’).

Research indicates that initial contact is often made with the specifically targeted individuals via the Internet and in particular, via social media websites[8].  Thereafter the indirect contact can be solidified by deeper and intense (even direct) contact[9]

Furthermore, research shows that individuals often targeted and/or inclined to be drawn into the radicalisation machine are vulnerable and young[10], “socially deprived, marginalised males” who tend to spend more time online[11]. The sociological questions are naturally: are these individuals drawn to these available social media pages because they feel ostracised due to of failures within the host countries or; are they ostracised because they seek interests and values that are not within mainstream society?  Would the massive inequalities in wealth[12] have ensued had there been a “peace on terror” instead of a “war on terror”? Socio-economic divisions are notably marked during this period, and the UN pledged to overcome these divisions within their ‘Agenda for Peace’[13].  This Agenda distinguishes between terrorism and democracy; outlining terrorism as the antithesis of social inclusion, actively working against social acceptance within a democracy. 

In the UK, the Home Office does not believe a susceptible individual[14] can be pinpointed however, note that certain background factors may contribute to an individual’s vulnerability[15].  When this is coupled with the frequency with which young persons’ are online[16], the Home Office are able to draw inferences and react accordingly by providing necessary guidance for local authorities[17] on both recognising and tackling this growing concern[18].  In addition to the regulatory framework[19], the requirements are further fulfilled by the presence of supportive organisations armed with specialist techniques namely Channel’[20] and ’Families Against Stress and Trauma’ (‘FAST’)[21]

Interactivity within the cyber realm is increasing, playing games online with people worldwide, educating children online, and instant communication[22] is an intrinsic part of this enablement.  These interactive systems can ‘learn’ behavioural patterns of users and be manipulated accordingly[23].  It was only a matter of time before the criminal domain optimised this development to grow their following and desensitise potential recruits to violent extremism.  These interactions are readily available on a variety of platforms accessible to all[24]

The advantages of social media sites are that the posts can be quickly distributed, removed and re-posted as necessary[25]; with instantaneous alerts available on all viewing devices. 

Evidence of increased interactivity lends to the training of recruits; CONTEST reported that some returning radicalised Britons[26] were “likely to have received combat…and other…related training”[27] in situ however we are increasingly aware of training being disseminated online via social media[28] accounts[29].  Interactive processes are able to generate messages[30] at an alarming rate, recruiters are reported to bombard recruits with some “200,000 tweets a day”[31] effectively brainwashing “young, impressionable”[32] recruits with over-saturation of a message.

The disadvantages of social media sites are that the IP address, for the most part, can be located and the perpetrator apprehended however, there is evidence suggesting that ISIL is becoming adept at avoiding this pitfall[33].  Assisting this phenomenon, ‘Cloud’ computing increasingly allows for both secretive storage and dissemination of contentious material; and care should be taken here. 

The main processes used by ISIL revolve around the 4 essential themes[34].  All these themes are supported by powerful, persuasive images[35] and use of language[36] and literature[37] on the social media websites.  Processes potentially rely heavily on the individual’s own ability to ‘self-radicalise’[38] but these proven techniques act as a funnel.  Effectively, hitting a wide audience initially, getting individuals ‘hooked’, then taking those devoted individuals deeper into secretive communication with a view to encouraging travel to regions[39] and defection from Western values[40].  Western values that are not necessarily held by these individuals; research indicates that these opposing beliefs are held prior to interaction online, and are simply “reinforced”[41] by recruiters. 

In the years following 9/11 we witnessed regimes being terminated by force; including detentions without trial and torture[42] yet despite these deterrents, the recruitment of terrorists steadily continues.

And technological processes importantly, are such that the terrorist organisations use ‘PGP’[43] settings to achieve their goal of reaching individuals with communications covertly; evading interception by international law enforcement agencies.  Data is encrypted and capable of decryption with PGP software[44]

Processes are becoming increasingly interrupted by law enforcement agencies in the UK however these disruptions[45] can be overcome by highly motivated recruiters[46].  We know that initial contact is openly available and has been deemed “relatively easy”[47] to do.  Social media campaigns are utilised to effectively repost “closed forum” content to a wider group[48]

When examining counter terrorist strategies effectively interrupting these terrorist processes we know that “since February 2010 over 95,000 pieces of terrorist content have been removed from the Internet”[49] in the UK.  An achievement by organisations such as CITRU, working with “key social media outlets”[50] in a bid to eradicate the content deemed in breach of statutory provisions[51].   

In conclusion, wider concerns surrounding the interception of personal communication technology by government agencies[52], has justly prompted the UK to insert a regulated framework[53] to prevent any abuses.  We understand that “global consensus”[54] is required however, political beliefs are intrinsically subjective thus law enforcement is internationally variable on this topic allowing gaps to evolve.  We recognise that it is essential for law enforcement agencies to work ceaselessly to remove terrorist material[55] and overcome the legislative barriers when locating content on foreign servers.  It is critical to pre-empt the attractive trends for terrorist recruiters[56] and one argument is; if we are not able to remain one step ahead of terrorist’s technological tactics, simply adopt the same strategies for accomplishing counter terrorist goals[57].

As previously outlined, we all are required to act responsibly online and in the cyber realm.  Should you require legal assistance in this area, please contact me directly.

Please note this article was drafted prior to the recent attack in London and our thoughts are with all those affected.

Next time: looking at arming of PSCs/PMCs and legal implications.  Any issues that you may want covered, please contact.

[1] CONTEST: the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism.  (2015). Annual Report for 2014.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/contest

[2] Ibid.                                                                                                                 

[3] Freiburger, T., & Crane, J.S.  (2008). A Systematic Examination of Terrorist Use of the Internet.  International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Volume 2 (Issue 1), p 310.                                                                          

[4] CONTEST: the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism.  (2011). Report for July 2011.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/contest

[5] Op. cit. n. 3.

[6] Op. cit. n. 1.

[7] General outline of CONTEST: the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism. (2016).  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/contest

[8] Families Against Stress and Trauma (‘FAST’).  (2016). Various.  Retrieved: http://www.familiesmatter.org.uk/should-i-worry/extremism-online/

[9] FAST.  (2016)  ISIS online. Retrieved: http://www.familiesmatter.org.uk/should-i-worry/extremism-online/

[10] Paul Gill & John Horgan (2013) Who Were the Volunteers? The Shifting Sociological and Operational Profile of 1240 Provisional Irish Republican Army Members, Terrorism and Political Violence, 25:3, 435-456, DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2012.664587 cited in S. Macdonald and D. Mair, “Terrorism online: a new strategic environment,” chapter 1 of L. Jarvis, S. Macdonald and T. M. Chen (eds) Terrorism Online: Politics, Law and Technology (2015; Oxon: Routledge), p.16.

[11] Freiburger, T., & Crane, J.S.  (2008). A Systematic Examination of Terrorist Use of the Internet.  International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Volume 2 (Issue 1), at p 313.

[12] P. Rogers, “Peace Studies,” chapter 5 of A. Collins (ed) Contemporary Security Studies (2007; Oxford: Collins), p.80.

[13] United Nations: Security-General. (1992). The Agenda for Peace. (A/47/277).  Retrieved: http://www.un-documents.net/a47-277.htm

[14] Home Office.  (2015). Keeping Children Safe in Education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges. Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/447595/KCSIE_July_2015.pdf

[15] Ibid. 

[16] S. Macdonald and D. Mair, “Terrorism online: a new strategic environment,” chapter 1 of L. Jarvis, S. Macdonald and T. M. Chen (eds) Terrorism Online: Politics, Law and Technology (2015; Oxon: Routledge), p.16.

[17] Section 29 Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

[18] The PREVENT strategy as outlined within the UK’s Strategy for countering Terrorism see: Op. cit. n. 4.

[19] Sections 36 to 38 Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.                                        

[20] As part of the PREVENT strategy within CONTEST reporting cited in: Home Office.  (2015). How Social Media is used to encourage travel to Syria and Iraq: Briefing Note for Schools.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/447595/KCSIE_July_2015.pdf

[21] Ibid.

[22] CONTEST: the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism.  (2011). Report for July 2011.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/contest

[23] This has been found particularly useful for legitimate marketing campaigns as the organisations can utilise dialogic media technology to strategically build rapport with their targeted audience see: WiKipedia (2016).  Interactive media.  Retrieved: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_media

[24] Freiburger, T., & Crane, J.S.  (2008). A Systematic Examination of Terrorist Use of the Internet.  International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Volume 2 (Issue 1), p 313.

[25] Op. cit. n. 22.

[26] CONTEST: the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism.  (2015). Annual Report for 2014.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/contest

[27] Ibid.

[28] Op. cit. n. 24 at p. 311.

[29] For example; the videos available on YouTube and online bomb making guides cited: Op. cit. n. 24 at p. 315.

[30] By way of social media messaging in particular.

[31] As outlined when discussing the Counter Terrorism Project cited on: Families Against Stress and Trauma (‘FAST’).  (2016). Various.  Retrieved: http://www.familiesmatter.org.uk/should-i-worry/extremism-online/

[32] Ibid. 

[33] ISIL are developing software to evade IP address being located cited: United Nations Security Council.  (2015). Implementation of Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014) by States affected by foreign terrorist fighters.   (S/2015/683).  Retrieved: http://www.un.org/en/sc/ctc/docs/2015/N1527297_EN.pdf

34 Four themes are outlined: The image of success portrayed by the organisation; status and belonging (focusing on the individual’s duty to engage in travel); the personal duty of that individual to be part of the ‘caliphate’ and finally the expectation that the individual needs to defend the Sunni Muslims against the threat of the West see: Home Office.  (2015). How Social Media is used to encourage travel to Syria and Iraq: Briefing Note for Schools.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/447595/KCSIE_July_2015.pdf.

[35] Instagram used for images of fighters and a happy quality of life in Syria see Home Office Report: Ibid. 

[36] The Cyberterrorism Project.  (2015). Online Terrorist Magazines: Preliminary Findings November 2015.  Retrieved: http://www.cyberterrorism-project.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/CTP-2015-Report-Nov-03.pdf

[37] Often using “prayers, religious aphorisms and content from the Quran” see page 24 of: The Brookings Project on U.S Relations with the Islamic World: J.M Berger and Jonathan Morgan.  (2015). The Twitter Census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter (Analysis Paper No.20, March 2015).  Massachusetts: Brookings.

[38] S. Macdonald and D. Mair, “Terrorism online: a new strategic environment,” chapter 1 of L. Jarvis, S. Macdonald and T. M. Chen (eds) Terrorism Online: Politics, Law and Technology (2015; Oxon: Routledge), p.17.

[39] Explanation of private messaging as per the process see: Op. cit. n 35.

[40] Freiburger, T., & Crane, J.S.  (2008). A Systematic Examination of Terrorist Use of the Internet.  International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Volume 2 (Issue 1), p 314. 

[41] P. Gill and E. Corner, “Lone actor terrorist use of Internet and behavioural correlates,” chapter 2 of L. Jarvis, S. Macdonald and T. M. Chen (eds) Terrorism Online: Politics, Law and Technology (2015; Oxon: Routledge), p.40.

[42] P. Rogers, “Peace Studies,” chapter 5 of A. Collins (ed) Contemporary Security Studies (2007; Oxford: Collins), p.80.

[43] ‘Pretty Good Privacy’ (PGP) cited: WiKipedia.  (2016) Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).  Retrieved: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Good_Privacy

[44] PGP defined as per: Ibid.

[45] CONTEST: the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism.  (2015). Annual Report for 2014.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/contest

[46] ISIL has scuppered attempts at this see: United Nations Security Council.  (2015). Implementation of Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014) by States affected by foreign terrorist fighters.   (S/2015/683).  Retrieved: http://www.un.org/en/sc/ctc/docs/2015/N1527297_EN.pdf

[47] Ibid.         

[48] Op. cit. n. 46.

[49] Home Office.  (2015). How Social Media is used to encourage travel to Syria and Iraq: Briefing Note for Schools.  Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/447595/KCSIE_July_2015.pdf

[50] Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit. (2015). The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CITRU). Retrieved: https://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/Counter_Terrorism_Internet_Referral_Unit

[51] Sections 1 & 2 Terrorism Act 2006.

[52] Op. cit. n. 46.                                                                        

[53] See Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to oversee and review Terrorism Legislation within Section 46 Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

[54] Op. cit. n. 46.

[55] Sections 1 and 2 of Terrorism Act 2006.

[56] Op. cit. n. 46.

[57] Freiburger, T., & Crane, J.S.  (2008). A Systematic Examination of Terrorist Use of the Internet.  International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Volume 2 (Issue 1), p 316.

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