Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill

Written evidence submitted by techUK (CTB09)

New Clause 1 of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill

1. Introduction


techUK welcomes the opportunity to brief parliamentarians on the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill. Our members take extremely seriously their responsibilities to engage law enforcement as agencies investigate and prosecute serious crime and to take responsible action to fight illegal content on their platforms. A large number of counter-terrorism operations are successful as a result of the support of tech companies.

This briefing focuses on New Clause 1 laid before the Public Bill Committee by Stephen Doughty MP which seeks to make provision for the monitoring and removal of unlawful content.

2. What Industry already does


techUK strongly believes that the high impact company and industry initiatives in place today do much of what New Clause 1 hopes to achieve. Companies have been engaging with government, law enforcement and other stakeholders, including civil society over a long period of time to develop mechanisms to remove unlawful content from their platforms. These initiatives are maturing rapidly and new companies continue to join these efforts.

There are a variety of methods employed to ensure unlawful material can be reported, identified and taken down in an efficient and effective manner, including:

· Enabling reporting and take down: Platforms have well developed reporting mechanisms to enable users to quickly report content they feel falls short of community standards and programmes of engagement with users to educate and empower them to flag content they believe to be unlawful. Easy-to-use tools allow simple notification and this triggers a process of review. Where the material is clearly unlawful this is a very straightforward procedure allowing it to be removed quickly. The largest digital platforms invest significantly in people and technology to ensure this moderation process runs smoothly. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people are moderating content globally - from violence, hate speech to child sexual abuse - in addition to the algorithms being applied to this process.

· Engagement with law enforcement referral units: Companies engage with specialist counter-terrorism referral units including the UK’s CTIRU and Europol’s IRU. Processes are in place to quickly review these notifications and take swift action to remove illegal content.

· Development of new technologies: Companies continually explore how technical solutions can help identify suspect content and facilitate quicker action. The tech sector has a long track record of investing in breakthrough technology to aid the fight against illegal content. For example, PhotoDNA was developed by Microsoft in partnership with Dartmouth College to identify known child sexual abuse images, and then refined and made available to other, often smaller, platforms via a partnership with the Technology Coalition and NCMEC. This technology is now widely used across the industry, and the IWF’s hash sharing programme interfaces with this technology. Google developed CSAI Match to detect known videos of child sexual abuse and other companies have partnered to pilot the technology. Hash-based technology is also being deployed to counter terrorist content. A hash sharing consortium of companies has established to work collaboratively to identify and act on known terrorist image, the consortium is growing with over 13 companies involved.

· Effective collaboration: Companies that host user-uploaded content come in all shapes and sizes, with different experiences of illegal content. Collaboration among peers has allowed even small companies to contribute to the development of initiatives to combat the proliferation of unlawful content online. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), for example, is a multi-stakeholder forum, with over 75 members, focused on appropriate responses to terrorist content online and allows companies of all types to benefit from the work that has been undertaken by more experienced companies. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), bringing together enforcement bodies, industry and government, is another success story that creates a whole ecosystem approach to tackling child sexual abuse imagery wherever it occurs.

3. Proposed New Clause 1


As described above, a wide range of initiatives are in place and evolving to build a sophisticated ecosystem to tackle illegal content through a combination of user education, partnership with law enforcement, development of technology solutions and multi-stakeholder engagement to safeguard against an erosion of rights in the online environment.

While it is important to keep the legal framework under review, this combination of efforts is yielding positive results and the amendment to Clause 1 does not add to this effort. Moreover, government has announced its intention to develop a White Paper by the end of this year which will explore the need for further action in this and related areas. This process should be guided by the evidence and a clear identification of problems that can only be resolved by intervention. techUK believes that this process should be allowed to run its course and that this Bill is not the time for pre-emptive legal change.

At this stage, legislation is more likely to hinder than to help on a practical level and techUK would urge the Committee to reject this amendment as it is unhelpful and impractical; distracting from the work already being done to tackle this legitimate issue.

July 2018


Prepared 11th July 2018