- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A top British official has called for increasing taxes on internet companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google on account of authorities spending millions of dollars worth of resources countering extremists radicalized in part by their products.

Britain is “more vulnerable than at any point in the last 100 years,” and internet firms are at fault for letting users spread propaganda and communicate under the radar of authorities, U.K. Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime Ben Wallace told The Sunday Times.

Mr. Wallace said that law enforcement’s inability to decipher communications sent using encrypted services like Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger are “turning the internet into an anarchic violent space” necessitating additional human surveillance.

“Because of encryption and because of radicalization, the cost of that is heaped on law enforcement agencies,” Mr. Wallace told the newspaper. “I have to have more human surveil­lance. It’s costing hundreds of millions of pounds. If they [internet firms] continue to be less than cooperative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compen­sating for their inaction.”

Facebook, Google and Twitter formed a coalition last year aimed at keeping extremists off their platforms, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, and last month its members testified that a majority of terrorism-related content is removed within hours of being uploaded.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wallace said internet companies aren’t acting fast enough in keeping extremist content offline.

“Because content is not taken down as quickly as they could do, we’re having to de-radicalize people who have been radicalized,” Mr. Wallace told the Times. “That’s costing millions. They [the firms] can’t get away with that and we should look at all options, including tax.

“We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts, they are not ruthless profiteers,” he said. “They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government.”

A Facebook executive told the U.K. House of Commons Home Affairs committee last month that about 83 percent of terrorist content is taken offline within one hour of being uploaded, Bloomberg reported. Google’s YouTube said it removes 70 percent of extremist material within eight hours, and Twitter claims it removes 75 percent of terrorist accounts before they even tweet, Bloomberg reported following the Dec. 19 hearing.

“Mr. Wallace is wrong to say that we put profit before safety, especially in the fight against terrorism,” Facebook said in a statement sent to The Times. “But this is an ongoing battle and we must continue to fight it together, indeed our CEO recently told our investors that in 2018 we will continue to put the safety of our community before profits.”

“Violent extremism is a complex problem and addressing it is a critical challenge for us all,” YouTube said in its own statement. “We are committed to being part of the solution and we are doing more every day to tackle these issues. Over the course of 2017 we have made significant progress through investing in machine learning technology, recruiting more reviewers, building partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies through the Global Internet Forum.”

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment, TechCrunch reported.

Roughly 90 percent of the 101 terrorism cases brought by U.S. prosecutors between March 2014 and June 2016 concerned suspects who used social media, according to a report published by Fordham Law School’s Center on National Security in 2016.

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