Britain's New Spy Master Accuses US Tech Firms of Aiding Terrorism

Britain's New Spy Master Accuses US Tech Firms of Aiding Terrorism

Robert Hannigan, the new head of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), says that Twitter, Facebook, and other tech companies have become important communication tools for terror groups, but tech companies are living in denial, and they need to work with government agencies to put an end to terror.

Hannigan warned that terror networks have fully “embraced the web” and unless the social media companies work closer with government security services, terrorists will increasingly turn to Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other. He also noted that ISIS “is the first terrorist group whose members have grown up on the Internet” so exploiting the web is natural for them.

The spy chief penned an op ed for the Financial Times where he advised Internet tech companies to get over their fear of government.

I understand why they [US technology companies] have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics. But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism. However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us.

Hannigan, whose agency is most remembered for breaking the Nazi Enigma code in WWII, offered to be “part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age” but scolded tech firms for being “in denial” about how terrorists “misuse” social media and other Internet-based services.

“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web,” Hannigan said in summation, “we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens. It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.


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