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In light of the London Attacks, Theresa May blames the internet:

“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,” Ms May said.

[ ... ]

The Conservative manifesto pledges regulation of the internet, including forcing internet providers to participate in counter-extremism drives and making it more difficult to access pornography.

but, some believe internet regulation will make it easier for terrorists:

“If successful, Theresa May could push these vile networks into even darker corners of the web, where they will be even harder to observe," wrote Jim Killock, the campaign group's executive director.

[ ... ]

The group noted that “real solutions” would “require attempts to address the actual causes of extremism”. “Debating controls on the internet risks distracting from these very hard and vital questions,” Mr Killock wrote.


How would even more internet regulation hinder terrorism?

  • When some of these acts are committed by lone wolves (i.e. Manchester Attack a couple of weeks ago) whom may not need to communicate via end to end encrypted applications?

  • I would also assume the Snoopers Charter currently does enough to monitor particular websites they may be visiting that endorses such extremist behaviour.

  • I don't know that this is answerable here, but from what I can tell, they're not implying terrorism is caused by direct communication via the internet, but rather they are saying some really bad ideas are allowed to thrive on the internet that influence people. – user1530 Jun 6 '17 at 0:36
  • @blip then what's the end game for the regulation? I would note the use of the term hinder here, I'm not saying how would regulation stop it, I'm saying what would regulation do negatively regarding terrorism (may it be planning, acts, suspects etc etc)? – Bradley Wilson Jun 6 '17 at 0:38
  • @blip I feel we already have enough regulation, that is why i'm querying – Bradley Wilson Jun 6 '17 at 0:45
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    Note that the UK already has a very regulated internet thanks to none other than Theresa May, so the question should really be "How would even more internet regulation hinder terrorism?". – Martin Schröder Jun 6 '17 at 8:05
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    Blaming the Internet.... I guess that shows progress from just blaming rock and roll music...... unless she's blaming rock music that they streamed from the Internet...... – PoloHoleSet Jun 6 '17 at 15:18
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Terrorists use encryption to hide their activities; a good overview can be found here in part two: "How Terrorists Use Encryption". I won't repeat it here, but the gist is that usage of tools such as PGP is wide-spread among organized terror networks such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

This doesn't mean that all terrorists use encryption. For example the 2015 attacks in Paris used standard non-encrypted SMS.

How would more internet regulation hinder terrorism even when some of these acts are committed by lone wolves (i.e. Manchester Attack a couple of weeks ago) whom may not need to communicate via end to end encrypted applications?

I don't think that anyone ever claimed that the proposed regulation and/or backdoors are a panacea to prevent all terrorism, what they are instead proposing is to increase the size of the toolbox to fight terrorism. This tool won't be useful in all situations, but it probably will be in some.

And make no mistake, there can be no denying that the ability to break encryption can be a useful and valuable tool for law enforcement.

However, there are two problems:

  1. Outlawing encryption will be virtually impossible. It will be very easy for terrorists to move to another system which does have strong encryption. As this article puts it:

    Even if by some miracle the UK government succeeds in gaining access to WhatsApp, what's to stop terrorists from moving to another service that doesn't yet have a governmental backdoor, or from taking some code from Github and making their own encrypted messaging tool? To paraphrase that massively overused adage, if we outlaw encryption, only outlaws will have encryption.

  2. An even bigger problem is that there is no technical way to give law enforcement the ability to break encryption systems without giving everyone else the same ability. It's like forcing everyone to install bad locks on their front doors: law enforcement can more easily enter, but so can burglars!

    Some might reply with "what do I care if someone reads my WhatsApp?", which is already a pretty poor argument, but it's not just about reading, it's also about sending messages as you and gaining unauthorized access to your account.

    And make no mistake, criminals gaining the ability to send messages as you on WhatsApp or Facebook account will be a huge security risk and can be used to scam your friends and relatives out of their money ("Help I'm stuck in Aberdeen and I lost my wallet, could you please send some money?", or "Hey honey, I forgot my credit card, can you send your code so I can get gas for my car?"). You think email spam was bad? Just wait.
    Even worse, it could be used as a "stepping stone" to gain access to highly sensitive trade or government secrets.
    And then there's the matter of people breaking in to accounts and spreading your nude pictures all over the internet...

    Every smart internet criminal in the UK should vote Tory.

In conclusion, "more internet regulation" will not "hinder terrorism", as these sort of regulations can be trivially circumvented. It is little more than security theatre combined with the politician's fallacy ("We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.")

Note that this proposal and those like it have been almost universally panned by security and IT experts as a spectacularly bad idea for the reasons above. I tried to find an expert article which argues in favour of such government powers, and simply wasn't able to find any.

  • "from taking some code from Github and making their own encrypted messaging tool" - if there's one thing security experts will tell you, it's that DIY is rarely a good approach when it comes to cryptography. – user4012 Jun 7 '17 at 14:41
  • Yeah, the first rule of cryptography is that you shouldn't write your own @user4012. But there are loads of freely available high-quality crypto libraries that difficult to use insecurely (e.g. pynacl, as well as many more). Using those libraries to make your own encrypted messaging service is fairly easy for any competent programmer, and should be safe even from state-sponsored actors (see the link in the first sentence for an example of how terrorists are using tools such as PGP as the base for their systems). – Martin Tournoij Jun 7 '17 at 14:55
  • Or, to summarise, integrating existing crypto in a programming project is not the same as writing your own crypto. – Martin Tournoij Jun 7 '17 at 15:01
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I believe one aspect of the question many people are asking is how to better manage content; the public and private use of the internet to propagate ideological content. In this line of investigation the goal is to prevent the wide dissemination is of radicalizing material. However, in practice censorship is rarely well contained.

The institutionalization (or general acceptance) of censorship often leads to abuses. Globally, there are currently many countries that employ strict internet censorship policies; China, North Korea, Cuba, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. These laws are widely used to eliminate dissention, limit the free exchange of ideas, as well as to funnel perception through a singular source of information. Limiting access to internet tools such as wikipedia and facebook, has been recently practiced with the intention to eliminate wider perception and to cut off global insight into events happening within a country. Some point to usage information as a potential mechanism to identify "enemies", but this practice is also a known method widely used to identify political subverters and target people who have done nothing more than investigate or share a thought.

Moreover, privatizing censorship is just as dangerous. To rely on Facebook, Youtube or other platforms to decide which content to host, is to put so much power in an unchecked system.

While it is difficult to know that tools are being used for destructive ends, I believe that education is the best rebuttal. If nothing else, the loss of liberty that increased censorship would create, would be as much a success for those parties being censored as having their messages available. The goal should not be to eliminate ideas, but to undermine them through open discourse.

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More internet regulation would not help combat organized terrorist activity. It would simply push the terrorists to find new methods of communications, that we'd just have to detect and figure out.

Also, keep in mind, the IP protocol is fairly difficult to restrict. There are dozens of ways to circumvent limitations - I suspect the original grad school designers of the protocol didn't want the school admins locking them out of their own creation. So, restricting the internet is not only non productive, it's also futile.

I tend to think that a swift response on the part of the UK against ISIS leadership would be the best approach. You can't stop them from being terrorists, but you can reinforce the message: send terrorists after us, and we will kill your leaders. ISIS leadership may be brutal, but they're definitely not suicidal. (that's why they con kids into suicide attacks)

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