On Friday 24 April 2015, New York University’s School of Professional Studies/Center for Global Affairs together with the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) hosted a workshop on Collaboration to counter terrorists exploiting information and communication technologies (ICT). Recalling the recent attack against TV5 which led to a shutdown of its 11 channels, all social media accounts, and its website, CTED Executive Director Jean-Paul Laborde pointed out that ICT can be used for both legitimate and malicious purposes.
One of the speakers underlined how easy it is today for a potential terrorist to connect with an established bad actor: Whereas at the time of the 9/11 attacks against the United States smart phones did not even exist, today anybody can use their phone and social media to communicate with Da’esh/ISIS, buy a plane ticket and apply for a visa to a transit country online, and later the same day be in a conflict zone to participate in fighting.
A number of matters of a more strategic nature was raised, including when to prevent a person from travelling vs. when to keep tracking the person to learn more about planned terrorist activities, etc.; where to draw the line between tracking a person online yet avoid becoming a ‘thought police;’ when to take content off-line and how this may affect terrorists’ activities outside the virtual space, thereby making them more difficult to track; what material is successful in radicalizing individuals and what assumptions we make about this; what happens when private companies have more data about an individual than the government does; and how the so-called MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) process can be sped up and the time to manage requests for mutual legal assistance shortened
A frequently cited statement was that it is not the technology that is the issue, but the content and users inciting violence using the technology. In a world with over one billion social media users, however, what does successful law enforcement look like? According to one law enforcement representative, watching terrorist videos online is not a crime in most jurisdictions, but taking concrete steps to join Da’esh/ISIS is; proving overt terrorist acts and criminal intent is very challenging.
Participants in the workshop included representatives from New York University, various UN entities, Government officials, private companies, and civil society. This meeting was organised in the context of the CTED mandate to reach out to Member States, the private sector, and civil society in relation to the use of ICT for terrorism purposes.