The battle between the spooks and the geeks is heating up. A new report into the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby has suggested that the brutal attack could have been prevented if an internet company (which remains unnamed in the report) had allowed online exchanges between the two killers to be accessed by intelligence services.
While the 191-page report suggests that both MI5 and MI6 made errors, the real villains to emerge are the US-based web giants. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chaired the report, has suggested that internet companies are ‘providing a safe haven for terrorists’. The report says:
‘What is clear is that the one party which could have made a difference was the company on whose system the exchange took place. However, this company does not regard themselves as under any obligation to ensure that they identify such threats, or to report them to the authorities. We find this unacceptable: however unintentionally, they are providing a safe haven for terrorists.’
The report also suggests that none of the major US internet companies regard themselves as ‘compelled to comply with UK warrants obtained under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000’.
Today’s findings echo a recent speech made earlier this month by Robert Hannigan, GCHQ’s new head of surveillance, in which he suggested internet companies were not adequately monitoring online extremist activity.
Despite the ongoing criticism directed at technology companies, Apple and Google have recently stated that they are beefing up their encryption technology, in order to make private data even more secure (and law enforcement, presumably, even harder). So expect to hear both sides resorting to more forceful arguments: big government wanting to protect its citizens’ security, while big tech talks loudly about protecting consumer demand for privacy.