In September of last year, we brought you word that the European Union was working on a proposal called CleanIT to stop the spread of terroristic content online. The plan called for a number of outlandish proposals such as browser-level surveillance and requiring all Internet users to go by their real names when using online services. Since then, the plan has gone through some changes, including the removal of the more worrisome proposals.
Ars Technica reports that the final CleanIT report has been published ahead of its final conference on Wednesday. The report discusses methods in which the government, private companies and individuals can help reduce the proliferation of terroristic content on the Internet. The report suggests that EU member states work together to decrease the amount of terroristic content online, while Internet companies should “state clearly in their terms and conditions that they will not tolerate terrorist use of the Internet on their platforms.”
So, you’ve seen what the government wants itself and companies to do, but what should you, the model EU citizen, do? The report calls for a reporting mechanism to be built into Web browsers so citizens can flag terrorist content:
While content portals (like social networks, image or video portals) can offer ‘flagging’ opportunities, other platforms (like hosted websites) often lack such a mechanism. Moreover, there is not one international, user-friendly reporting mechanism available to all Internet users, irrespective of which part of the Internet they are using at the moment they notice what they think is terrorist use of the Internet.
A browser-based reporting mechanism could be developed to allow end users to report terrorist use of the Internet.
In essence, the CleanIT group wants to put a little panic button at the top right of your browser that’s for terrorist reporting. If you see a terrorist Web site, you click the button and the URL is sent away to the Internet police. What could possibly go wrong?
As Ars Technica puts it, “plenty” could go wrong. The main concern is that nobody can agree on what constitutes terroristic content. Is it a blog post of somebody using violent rhetoric? Is it the Twitter account of a known terrorist cell? Does anybody even have the right to remove such content, or does it fall under free speech protections? Can people abuse the reporting system to have content removed without due process? These are questions that the group will have to answer at its conference on Wednesday.
The proposals will also face some serious scrutiny at the conference as it has already been reportedly criticized by lawyers, civil rights groups, and even the peer reviewers that evaluated the final report. One of the peer reviewers criticized the CleanIT report saying that it “does not clearly explain how the objective is to be reached… Therefore I have substantial doubts if it possible to achieve the desired objective this way.”
As the peer reviewer points out, stopping the flow of terroristic content on the Web, or any content for that matter, is incredibly difficult. The U.S’s Bipartisan Policy Center said just as much in a report it published last year about terroristic content online. The report said that the best chance of stopping terrorism online is to reduce the supply and demand for such content. Drawing attention to it, which CleanIT’s proposal may very well do, is only going to further the cause of those who use the Internet to recruit and communicate with other terrorists and ne’er-do-wells.