Monthly Archives: September 2017

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube up the ante on curbing terrorist propaganda

The companies have furthered their commitment to curb online terrorist content, pumping funds into research and pledging to work with 50 smaller tech players to keep the content away from their platforms.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, comprised of Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube, has made a “multimillion-dollar” commitment it said will support research on terrorist abuse of the internet.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Google’s SVP and general counsel Kent Walker said the new commitment focuses on conducting and sharing research about how terrorists use the internet to influence their audiences so the forum can stay one step ahead.

In a bid to better tackle terrorist content on the companies’ respective platforms, Walker told the United Nations in New York on Wednesday that the forum, which formed earlier this year, has now set a goal of working with 50 smaller tech companies to help them curb online terrorist propaganda.

“On Monday, we hosted dozens of companies for a workshop with our partners under the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate,” he said. “There will be a workshop in Brussels in December and another in Indonesia in the coming months. And we are also working to expand the hash-sharing database to smaller companies.”

The forum also hopes to determine how governments, tech companies, and civil society can fight back against online radicalisation. Walker revealed that the third and final pillar of the consortium’s plan is to work together to find “powerful messages and avenues to reach out to those at greatest risk of radicalisation”.

The group of companies announced they would be joining forces last year at the EU Internet Forum to curb terrorist content, specifically promising at the time to build a shared database of unique digital fingerprints — or hashes — for violent terrorist imagery, or terrorist recruitment videos and images, which have been removed from their services.

On Wednesday, Walker said the companies are putting their best talent and technology against the task of removing terrorist content and are “doing a better job of sharing breakthroughs with each other”, pointing to the forum’s hash-sharing database as being an early success.

“We have to deal with these problems at tremendous scale. The haystacks are unimaginably large and the needles are both very small and constantly changing,” he explained.

“In recent months we have more than doubled the number of videos we’ve removed for violent extremism and have located these videos twice as fast.”

Between August 2015 and June 2017, Twitter suspended more than 935,000 accounts for the promotion of terrorism. According to a company blog post, during the first half of 2017, over 95 percent of the accounts it removed were detected using its in-house technology.

Facebook, Walker said, is also leveraging artificial intelligence to root out “terrorist clusters” by mapping out pages, posts, and profiles with terrorist material before shutting them down.

“There is no magic computer program that will eliminate online terrorist content, but we are committed to working with everyone in this room [during his UN address] as we continue to ramp up our own efforts to stop terrorists’ abuse of our services,” Walker added.

Also addressing the UN in New York on Wednesday was Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said Australia is keen to work with communications companies to crack encrypted messages used by terrorists, and congratulated Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Google, and YouTube for joining with governments to combat terrorists online.

While Australia supports an open, free, and secure internet, Bishop said encrypted messaging apps used by extremist groups are in the Australian government’s sights.

“Australia is very keen to work constructively with communications service providers to prevent terrorists from using encryption to hide online,” said Bishop, who was expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates following the UN proceedings.

“This is a significant challenge as encryption is vital for the protection of many legitimate activities including national security ecommerce and personal privacy.”

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Google: Here’s how we’re going to crack down on terrorist propaganda

Google responds to criticism that it and other platforms aren’t doing enough to prevent online indoctrination.

Facebook outlines its AI-driven efforts to fight terrorism

After facing criticism from EU leaders following the string of terrorist attacks in the UK, Facebook is stepping up its efforts to curb extremist content online.

The laws of Australia will trump the laws of mathematics: Turnbull

Despite calling the laws of mathematics “commendable”, the prime minister of Australia told ZDNet the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia when it comes to legislating decryption.

Henry Sapiecha

WHICH LAW ENFORCEMENT GROUP HAS BEEN SNOOPING INTO MY ONLINE DATA

This is how much access Australian police already have to your data

The Australian government now wants further powers to access encrypted communications, but does it need them?

Police and intelligence agencies already have significant abilities to access data about our emails, phone calls and text messages if we’re suspected of committing a crime, although it can be difficult to tell exactly what they’re doing with them.

The government argues existing interception capabilities are inadequate to protect national security. According to Attorney-General George Brandis, backdoor access to encrypted communications would redress the “degradation of our intelligence capability” to prevent terrorism.

Many Australians are unaware of current police and intelligence powers when it comes to accessing our data. As the government lobbies for new levels of access, that needs to change.

‘Backdoor’ access

The government’s proposal to compel technology companies to provide access to encrypted messaging services is modelled on laws passed by other members of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance, of which Australia is a member.

Deputy US Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein recently announced the Department of Justice intends to demand interception of encrypted communications. New Zealand already requires technology companies to grant access. In the UK, authorities may force decryption where it is technologically feasible.

As with our allies, it is unclear if Australia’s laws will require so-called “backdoor” vulnerabilities to be built into messaging applications like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

They could compel access via decryption keys or they might enable remote access to devices for interception of communications “at the ends”.

In response, cryptographers argue it is not mathematically possible to access end-to-end encrypted messages via interception without undermining online privacy for everyone.

The current state of telecommunications surveillance

The government already has various powers to access metadata, the contents of digital conversations and computer networks.

The Attorney-General’s Department recently released its annual report on telecommunications surveillance.

Thanks to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act (TIA Act), law enforcement and other agencies can access stored communications with a warrant. This can include “email, SMS or voice messages stored on a carrier’s network”. In other words, the contents of any communication not encoded via encryption.

Agencies may also apply for “preservation notices” to compel telecommunications companies to preserve data.

During the 2015-16 financial year, there were 712 warrants issued for access to stored communications. Data is not available about the types of offences these warrants were used for. It is also not clear how the telecommunications information was used in investigations.

Applications for stored communications warrants (issued)

Agency 2014-2015 2015-2016
ACC 4 2
ACCC 4
AFP 94 80
ASIC 1
CCC (QLD) 3
CCC (WA) 5
DIBP 10 1
NSW CC 3 4
NSW Police 290 345
NT Police 16 11
PIC 7 16
QLD Police 123 132
SA Police 38 19
TAS Police 29 17
VIC Police 40 41
WA Police 38 35
Total 696 712

Source: Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 Annual Report 2015–16

The issue of metadata retention

A controversial 2015 amendment to the TIA Act requires telecommunication service providers to retain metadata for two years.

This allows authorised law enforcement agencies warrantless access to information about digital communications such as the recipient or time sent, but not their content.

However, some agencies that aren’t meant to be able to access metadata are still making requests under different legal regimes, according to the Communications Alliance, and there have already been reported breaches where an Australian Federal Police officer accessed a journalist’s metadata without an appropriate warrant.

The 2015-16 financial year was a grace period for service providers to comply with retention requirements. During this time, there were 332,639 authorisations by criminal law-enforcement agencies.

Authorisations occurred most for drugs or homicide investigations. It’s possible this may indicate police are relying on ready access to metadata rather than pursuing traditional investigatory methods.