Security

Theresa May’s Criticism Of Tech Companies Is ‘Politically Convenient’

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

Follow on: Google +

Prime minister May has called for more Internet regulation following Saturday’s attack, but critics call the reaction short-sighted

Technology and civil rights groups said prime minister Theresa May’s call for increased Internet regulation following Saturday night’s attack on London Bridge was misguided and “politically convenient”.

On Sunday, May called for new regulations that would “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online”.

‘Safe space’ online

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed,” she said in a statement issued to the press. “Yet that is precisely what the Internet, and the big companies… provide.”

But critics said May’s focus appeared to be on backing the government’s existing policies, such as its efforts to ban the end-to-end encryption of online communications, rather than on anything that would substantially improve security.

data encryption
Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre For The Study Of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said May was wrong to focus on the Internet.

“Few people (are) radicalised exclusively online,” he wrote on Twitter. “Blaming social media platforms is politically convenient but intellectually lazy.”

The Open Rights Group said it was short-sighted to focus on the Internet and social media networks as the “cause” of problems, and that doing so through narrow-minded regulation would only push militants’ communications into the “darker corners of the web”.

“While governments and companies should take sensible measures to stop abuse, attempts to control the internet is not the simple solution that Theresa May is claiming,” the group stated.

Security efforts

Major technology companies said they would work with the government to fight the abuse of their platforms.

Google said it was already working on an “international forum to accelerate and strengthen our existing work in this area”, while Facebook director of policy Simon Milner said the company wants to be a “hostile environment” for extremists.

Twitter, too, said it continues to “expand the use of technology” as part of its approach to removing militant content, which has “no place” on the platform.

Antony Walker, deupty chief executive of industry body techUK, said technology companies were committed to helping combat extremism, but that they relied on a “clear legal framework” being in place.

“Putting in place the right solutions to combatting the misuse of online platforms is just one part of the jigsaw in tacking extremism,” he said. “These are highly complex, challenging issues and tech companies are committed to playing their part.”

backdoor security encryption NSA © Sergey Nivens Shutterstock
But the government said it was right to put more pressure on technology companies, arguing they could do more to stop the free circulation of militant material and communications.

More work needed

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said social media companies had taken successful action against indecent images of children, but hadn’t made the same response to extremism.

Home secretary Amber Rudd said tech firms should take stronger action on taking down extremist content and should limit the availability or strength of end-to-end encryption.

End-to-end encryption encodes communications from the time they leave one device until they are decoded at the reception point.

Only the sender and the receiver have access to the decryption key, meaning the service provider is incapable of decoding the transmission if asked to do so by law enforcement.

Services providing the technology include Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Telegram, upon whose technology WhatsApp’s encryption is based.

What do you know about the history of mobile messaging? Find out with our quiz!