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Following the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead, several European governments have signaled their readiness to increase powers to monitor Internet communication to help stop possible future violence.
“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” a statement signed by the interior or justice ministers of France, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Latvia said after the Charlie Hebdo attack and hostage drama.
It added: “The partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Canada’s minister of public safety were present when they signed the statement, which came just days before the White House unveiled new proposals for cybersecurity legislation that also called for cooperation by tech companies.
In the U.K., the head of domestic intelligence service MI5 has in recent days been quoted as saying he was frustrated that Internet companies didn’t follow requests for information about their users in the case of security concerns.
“We all value our privacy, and none of us want it intruded upon improperly or unnecessarily,” Andrew Parker was quoted by various papers as saying. “But I don’t want a situation where that privacy is so absolute and sacrosanct that terrorists and others who mean us harm can confidently operate from behind those walls without fear of detection.”
He added: “If we are to do our job, MI5 will continue to need to be able to penetrate their communications as we have always done. That means having the right tools, legal powers and the assistance of companies which hold relevant data. Currently, this picture is patchy.”
The British intelligence needs the right to intercept international communications from U.K. Internet providers such as Vodafone and BT, he and others argue.
Backing up the MI5 chief, U.K. prime minister David Cameron early this week revealed plans for new surveillance powers — part of a so-called “snoopers’ charter” that had already been blocked in parliament — that he said he would once more attempt to pass should he win a second term in power in the general election to be held this spring.
As an addition to the contentious bill, Cameron announced he would look to ban communication methods that could not be read by security services, which experts say could include chat and social tools that use data encryption, such as Facebook’s WhatsApp, Snapchat, Apple’s iMessage and Facetime.
“Are we going to allow a means of communication which it simply isn’t possibly to read? My answer to that questions is: ‘No, we must not,’ ” he said during an election campaign speech.
Intelligence experts have cited the increased risk of so-called “lone wolf” attacks in Britain, similar to the gunman who took hostages at a cafe in Sydney, Australia, and killed two people in December.
“Such attacks are inherently harder for intelligence agencies to detect,” said MI5’s Parker. “They are often the work of volatile individuals motivated by terrorist propaganda rather than working as part of sophisticated networks.”
Privacy advocate Caspar Bowden is among those that have taken issue with the suggestion that more web monitoring is needed. He tweeted that while millions of people march in France “for freedom of expression,” some governments “announce plans for Internet censorship without due process #CharlieDoesSurf.”
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