The Government’s plans to sanction internet businesses for hosting extremist material is not how “our democratic society” should be treated, according to the counter-terrorism watchdog.
Max Hill QC warned that proposals to “criminalise” internet companies, as advocated by Theresa May and Amber Rudd, would not only alienate those companies but also make it more difficult to pursue terrorists.
Appointed as the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation in February, Mr Hill reports to Parliament on how anti-terror laws are being used and whether they are fit for purpose.
He responded dismissively to suggestions that new powers were needed when the subject was raised at a conference on Terrorism and Social Media in Swansea.
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Mr Hill told attendees: “I struggle to see how it would help if our Parliament were to criminalise tech company bosses who ‘don’t do enough’. How do we measure ‘enough’? What is the appropriate sanction?
“We do not live in China, where the internet simply goes dark for millions when government so decides. Our democratic society cannot be treated that way.”
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The government has drawn criticism from civil rights advocates with its proposals for a Digital Charter, although the criticism from Mr Hill will be received as a more considered sting than that from campaigners.
In response to Mrs May’s suggestion that new legal instruments should be created to allow the government to address extremists, Mr Hill said: “We do not lack for legal powers to bring these cases to court.”
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He warned though that it would be difficult to bring such cases to court if extremist communications were taking place on the dark-web, where the police often struggle to unmask posters and operators.
Mr Hill said: “Companies who make eye-watering sums of money from our everyday chatter need to be brought onside, they do not need to forced offside.”
Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter announced their intention to collaborate with each other in removing terrorist material earlier this year.