Tech firms ready to work with US spy agencies to combat IS and online terrorism


Silicon Valley met with the US government on Friday to discuss how to tackle online terrorist propaganda from the likes of IS. At a closed-door meeting, Tim Cook and representative of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and other tech firms spoke with White House officials to try to find a way to combat terrorists on the web.

Joined by the likes of the NSA and FBI, the technology firms, and the Obama administration are seeking ways to stop terrorist propaganda being disseminated online. IS has already proved itself to be a masterful manipulator of the media, and has successfully used social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to get its message out.


The mood of the meeting is in contrast to talks that have taken place about encryption. While US government is keen to be granted access to communications, the likes of Apple is warning about the dangers of weakening encryption or providing governmental backdoors to data. While technology firms stand at odds with the government over encryption, this meeting appears to have been rather more positive in tone, with Facebook saying:

This meeting confirmed that we are united in our goal to keep terrorist and terror-promoting material off the internet.

The government delegation had sent out a briefing document ahead of the meeting outlining the purposes of the get-together. It could be seen as an admission that the Obama administration is not in a position to tackle IS's unwanted web presence without help. The briefing said:

We are interested in exploring all options with you for how to deal with the growing threat of terrorists and other malicious actors using technology, including encrypted technology. Are there technologies that could make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize?

As well as looking to thwart terrorist propaganda, the government is also looking for ways to counter any such material that is out there. There is a balancing act to be struck between allowing freedom of speech, whilst placing limits on hate speech and incitement to violence.

Technology used by Facebook to help identify people contemplating suicide has been singled out for particular attention. The hope is that it could be used as the basis for an automated tool for identifying terrorists and supporters of terrorism.

Photo credit: GongTo / Shutterstock

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