G7 ministers squeeze tech giants to remove extremist material faster

Group of Seven security ministers are pressuring technology giants, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter, to remove violent extremist and terrorist content from their platforms faster or face “other action” if they don’t.

That was the message Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he and his G7 counterparts made Tuesday in a closed-door session in Toronto with those four leading members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, an industry group comprised of more than 70 technology companies.

“The message is let’s pick up the pace on the improvement that we need to see to get rid of this vile material off the Internet,” Goodale told reporters, “and if we don’t see the pace improving fast enough, then we reserve the right to take other action. And I think the companies heard that message loud and clear.”

Goodale said G7 security ministers also want tech companies to improve their ability to use more automation to quickly remove extremist material,  as well as give users who hunt for terrorist material a “counter narrative” of content.

The four tech giants reported to the security ministers what progress they have been making since they last spoke to G7 leaders last fall in Italy. Goodale said that, for example, Facebook reported in Q1 this year it took action on 1.9 million pieces of ISIS or Al Queda content. “The ministers were grateful, but anxious to see more” progess, Goodale said.

Asked by a reporter how much the ministers leaned on the four companies, Goodale said “to a very great extent.”

The Global Forum was created last year to formalize and structure collaboration between member companies with other tech companies, civil society groups and academics, governments and the UN “to make our hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists.” In December Google said that a database of hashes allows member companies to identify and remove matching content — videos and images — that violate our policies. In some cases, it said, content can be blocked before it is even posted. Others participating in the group are Ask.fm, Cloudinary, Instagram, Justpaste.it, LinkedIn, Oath — the branch of Verizon that includes AOL and Yahoo — and Snap.

The G7 security ministers were meeting in Toronto as a lead-up to the meeting of the group’s leaders in Quebec this summer. As part of this week’s meeting the security ministers issued a statement of agreed commitments on a wide range of security issues that cover violence and terrorism. Specifically, the G7 calls on the Global Internet Forum to

— Improve communication and transparency with G7 governments on its efforts;

–Strengthen transparency and demonstrate progress against terrorist content online through the adoption of performance metrics consistent with those used by the EU Internet Forum on preventing and countering misuse of their platforms, including the removal of content and accounts within 1 hour of upload, where technically feasible, without compromising accuracy, and while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms;

— Explore methods of preserving removed violent extremist and terrorist content, and making it available upon request for investigation, prosecution, and accountability purposes;

— Collaborate and include relevant partners, such as industry, government, academia, law enforcement and civil society as part of a collective approach to violent extremist and terrorist use of the internet;

— Continue to develop, repurpose, and leverage and facilitate the sharing of technology and automated solutions for the rapid detection and removal of violent extremist and terrorist content within 1 hour of upload, where technically feasible, without compromising accuracy, and while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, taking into consideration gender disparities, and preserving evidence for law enforcement when necessary;

— Prevent the recurrence of violent extremist and terrorist content by contributing to and utilizing the Shared Industry Hash Database and by publishing performance metrics;

— Improve cooperation between the industry and internet referral units to expedite the treatment of referrals submitted by national authorities;

— Support smaller platforms which are particularly vulnerable due to their limited resources to identify and remove violent extremist and terrorist material through the expansion of GIFCT membership; and,

— Continue to provide and enhance its leadership by forming a collective industry-wide voice.

As for the fight against cyber crime, the security ministers vowed to work together to improve their systemic risk management and measures. In particular they will look at creating a link between all G7 cyber centres to strengthen resilience, better anticipate threats and explore options for possible collective responses. They also promised to continue to support and promote the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and strengthen efforts to attract additional countries to join

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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