UK's Prevent Strategy disregards evidence

The Pirate Party has criticised updates in the government’s Prevent Strategy document, saying the ideas “haven’t been thought through or researched.”

The comments from Loz Kaye come as UK Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the government will create a “national blocking list” of websites that break the law when it comes to terrorism and inciting extremism.

The move forms part of a refresh of the strategy (PDF), which was launched in 2007 to counteract homegrown terrorism.

One part of the document says “internet filtering across the public estate is essential.” It also recommends the screening of websites in places like schools and libraries to “weed out” radicalisation.

The Pirate Party is worried. There are “serious implications for the freedom of the internet, with discussions of web blocking and filtering.”

It’s even more concerned that these ideas haven’t been thought out well enough.

When announcing the plans, Ms May told reporters that the government did not yet have a blanket filtering system for departments, agencies and organisations. She also claimed that the government did not have the means to see exactly how comprehensive filtering systems were in schools and public libraries.

Mr Kaye said that this wasn’t the case, and the government hadn’t “bothered” to do its research properly.

He told TechEye: “Although there’s no evidence that this is part of a thought through attack on the internet or that the government is sneakily moving to censorship of the web, the main point is that the new plans haven’t been thought through or researched.

“One example of this is that the document says that the government wasn’t able to determine what internet filtering was in place in schools. Of course it’s possible, they just didn’t bother to do it.

“They are not working from evidence, they are working from the overall narrative that the internet is bad and harmful,” he said.

Currently The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) looks after blocking illegal sites on the web, but under the new plans the government has said it will explore the potential for violent and unlawful URL lists to be voluntarily incorporated into independent national blocking lists, including the list operated by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

This again is something the Pirate Party is concerned about. It’s difficult to decide what’s harmful and what’s not, Kaye says. He also points out that the IWF blocking lists had faced problems in the past.

One example was in 2008 when the IWF blacklisted content on the English version of  Wikipedia, which related to the Scorpions’ 1976 studio album Virgin Killer. This was due to the its controversial cover artwork, depicting a young girl posing nude, with a faux glass shatter obscuring her genitalia.

“We want the government to go back and acknowledge its plans are ineffective. It’s also not technologically possible to put in place some of its requests. Another thing to consider that terrorism isn’t just on the net, people can use their mobiles etc which isn’t mentioned in the document,” said Kaye.

“The government needs to be serious in looking at the internet and engage in some real dialogue before it makes recommendations.”

We contacted the IWF, which told us: “Our systems and processes in compiling this list are periodically inspected and audited by eminent independent experts. The URLs are assessed according to UK law, a process reinforced by reciprocal police training with each image being categorised in line with criteria set out by the UK Sentencing Council.

“Our list is designed and provided for blocking specific URLs only. Any decision to convert or adapt the list to block whole domains may lead to the overblocking of legitimate content and is not supported by the IWF.”