MPs call for ISPs to clamp down on 'extremism'

MPs have demanded that internet service providers do more to clamp down on violent extremist content that is helping to promote a surge in online radicalisation.

The Home Affairs Select Committee, lead by MP Keith Vaz, found that the internet is the predominant breeding ground for extremist activity, posing more of a risk than prisons or universities.

MPs demanded that ISPs should be actively engaging in developing codes of practice to help policing content which could be deemed as promoting violent extremist activity. However, the definition is loose: here Parliament describes extremism along with the usual suspects as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”.

“More resources need to be directed to these threats and to preventing radicalisation through the internet and in private spaces,” Vaz stated. “These are the fertile breeding grounds for terrorism.”

“We cannot let our vigilance slip.”

The committee did note that in almost all cases, ‘extremist activity’ would necessitate face to face contact, but the internet played a significant role in allowing that radicalisation to take place.

With this in mind, Parliament is telling ISPs that more should be done to censore violent content from the web.

It appears that MPs would like the industry to come up with its own self-regulatory guidelines.

Tensions are running high over greater powers to censor content, particularly with the ACTA coverage online. MPs are adamant that heightened caution needs to be maintained over the terrorist threat.

YouTube has also received flak for allowing extremist content to be uploaded and responded with a flagging system.  As with YouTube, there are difficulties in policing vast amounts of data that is uploaded each day.

According to broadband industry commentator Ernest Doku at uSwitch, the reality of implementing stricter controls could prove to be extremely tricky.

“An ISP is exactly that: a service provider,” Doku said to TechEye. “Presently, it is difficult to discern where their role would sit in terms of deeming which content is permissible in accordance with Government guidelines.

Putting such a large responsibility on ISPs would necessitate a big change in the role of the companies involved, one which may cause controversy in deciding which content is deemed unacceptable.

Doku thinks it’s a “mammoth task” considering the amount of data on the web. “It would also dramatically alter their overall role to one of web invigilators,” he said.

There are arguments about free speech, too, especially with the government’s loosely defined notions of extremism: “Inevitably, we then drift into the thorny territory of website blocking, and this is arguably another slippery slope where permission of free speech hangs in the balance.

“This is a valiant cause and few may argue with the premise on paper, but handling extremism effectively – without compromising personal freedoms – is a delicate issue,” Doku said.