An EU-funded project called “CleanIT” which was commissioned to propose ways that online terrorism and extremism can be prevented, has published its final report.
The report comes before Wednesday’s conference in Brussels and is a 30-page document that outlines CleanIT’s final recommendations.
The report and the conference are the end result of a 2-year, €400,000 ($428,000) study grant from the EU’s Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme and is intended to propose ways in which online terrorism recruitment and extremist propaganda can be combated.
Despite the huge budget, the report has received a negative reception. It has dropped some of the more preposterous ideas like OS and browser-level monitoring as a condition of software sales in the EU, but retained some ideas that many internet experts regard as bizarre and unlikely to work.
CleanIT has advocated for some rather obvious measures: an increased level of cooperation between EU member states and the suggestion that governments should “take an active role in reducing terrorist use of the Internet.” The report also states that Internet companies should state clearly in terms and conditions that terrorist use will not be tolerated and provide a clear definition of what they consider to be terrorism.
To help them achieve this, governments and web companies will be expecting their users’ assistance and CleanIT proposes a “browser-based reporting mechanism” so that users can report any terrorist use that they stumble across whilst watching cat videos and updating their Facebook statuses. Ars Technica editor Cyrus Farivar said that this proposal basically translates to a “big ‘flag this site for terrorist activity’ button in your favorite Web browser.”
Farivar believes that this could lead to all sorts of problems especially if flagging leads to mandatory action. He also poses the age old problem of defining exactly what is terrorist material or what a terrorist website might be and states that there really is nothing to stop the website operator from taking their “terrorist” website out of an EU country!
Even supporters of the CleanIT report know they will struggle to have their ideas implemented, because, by their own admission;
“From a legal perspective, it is a challenge to reduce the terrorist use of the Internet because: The Internet is not a single virtual society governed by one system of rule of law.”
The document goes on to point out how difficult it is to determine content that is illegal, because the boundaries of what is and isn’t against the law can change from country to country and EU jurisdiction only covers a section of the internet. It also accepts that illegal content does not often lead to acts of terrorism and vice versa, sometimes perfectly legal content can result in radicalization.
Several critics have expressed doubts about the CleanIT project, stating that it fails to provide “clear solutions or preventative policies.”
“The final report is an incoherent mix of three elements—the effective lobbying done by the filtering companies that took part, the support for privatized policing that was the motivation behind the project being funded, and the profound incompetence of the project team.”
McNamee even divided the word count with the grant money that was provided and said: “At €44 ($59) per word, it is difficult to imagine a more expensive, less useful document.”