The tech giants that met home secretary Amber Rudd today for a meeting discussing how to tackle extremist content online have promised to work closely with the government.
They have agreed to set up an industry board to tackle removing terrorist content online, but notably amiss from their comments in the wake of the meeting was anything to do with dealing with encrypted messages.
Rudd had called for the meeting after it emerged the Westminster attacker Khalid Masood had used encrypted messaging service WhatsApp shortly before the attack.
She said such services shouldn't provide "a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other", though Rudd has faced criticism claiming she did not understand what was needed to achieve this.
Following today's meeting Rudd said she will return to the issue of encryption in "further, separate discussions".
Here's the tech firms' response to the home secretary following the meeting:
Tech firms' letter to Amber Rudd
Dear home secretary,
Thank you for the constructive discussion today on the challenges that terrorism poses to us all.
We welcome the opportunity to share with you details of the progress already made in this area and to hear how the UK government is developing its approach in both the online and offline space. Our companies are committed to making our platforms a hostile space for those who seek to do harm and we have been working on this issue for several years. We share the government’s commitment to ensuring terrorists do not have a voice online.
We believe that companies, academics, civil society, and government all have an interest and responsibility to respond to the danger of terrorist propaganda online—and as an industry we are committed to doing more. Companies increasingly share best practices with one another, and we have seen that sharing lessons learned across sectors can improve our collective response to this challenge. Each of our companies also commits to urgently improve that collaboration, with appropriate transparency and civil society involvement.
We will look at all options for structuring a forum to accelerate and strengthen this work, ranging from existing international, multilateral organisations, developing dedicated non-governmental organisations, to enhancing and broadening the current informal collaboration sessions that companies already conduct.
We recognise three initial goals for this collaboration:
First, to encourage the further development of technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda. Companies apply unique content policies and have developed - and continue to develop - techniques appropriate for or unique to their own platforms. Nonetheless, there is a significant opportunity to share the knowledge gained in these varied efforts to develop innovative solutions.
Second, to support younger companies that can benefit from the expertise and experiences of more established ones. Working against terrorism is not a competitive issue within the industry and we pledge to engage the wider ecosystem of companies that face these challenges. The British government can support this work by ensuring the 300 organisations that have a relationship with the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit are aware of the support available from industry peers and potentially convening those organisations where necessary.
Third, to support the efforts of civil society organisations to promote alternative and counter-narratives. Our companies all have already invested in existing programmes to support civil society, but programmes like the Civil Society Empowerment Programme highlight the potential benefits of greater collaboration. Again, the industry does not see this work as one where we compete, but rather as an opportunity to provide support whose value is greater than the individual contributions.
As you recognised, this work must be global in nature and must also avoid duplicating existing efforts. The innovative video hash sharing database that is currently operational in a small number of companies is one recent example of successful collaboration. That work has been strengthened by engagement with the European Union, and illustrates the effectiveness of voluntary, collaborative efforts. We anticipate that the next meeting of the EU Internet Forum will be an opportunity to update member states on the progress of both the hash sharing effort and the forum discussed today.
We are grateful for your support in ensuring that the government and technology industry work together to tackle this vital issue.
Hugh Milward, senior director, corporate, external and legal affairs, Microsoft UK
Nick Pickles, UK head of public policy and government, Twitter
Richard Allan, VP public policy EMEA, Facebook
Nicklas Lundblad, VP public policy Europe, Middle East, Russia and Africa, Google