Information and Communications Technologies
In 2014, Member States faced an acute and growing threat posed by the significant flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs)1 to the conflict zones of the Middle East. That threat was exacerbated by a marked increase in online radicalization and recruitment. Moreover, those who were radicalized included, inter alia, families with children, teenagers, and school teachers. It became quickly apparent that the emerging capacity for people to connect remotely with others located all over the world offered both opportunities and risks. The Internet was enabling terrorist groups to reach deep into every layer of society. By 2015, over 30,000 FTFs, from more than 100 States, had joined terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh). The threat posed by FTFs to their States of origin; to States of transit and destination; and to neighbouring zones of armed conflict in which they were active was compounded by the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to disseminate propaganda, incite hatred, radicalize, recruit, finance, train, plan and execute terrorist attacks.
The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) — an expert body that serves the Security Council and the broader United Nations membership — is required to assist the Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor, facilitate and promote Member States’ implementation of the relevant Council resolutions on terrorism. CTED’s response to the above challenges sought to reconcile the positive and negative aspects of new technologies: their considerable potential to improve quality of life, on the one hand, and their vulnerability to abuse by terrorists, on the other. Accordingly, CTED assists Member States to develop ways to prevent use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, counter terrorist narratives, and develop innovative technological solutions, in respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and in compliance with their other obligations under international law. CTED also emphasizes the need for States to identify an appropriate balance between countering hate speech and safeguarding freedom of expression, as well as to work together to identify durable solutions to these challenges, regardless of their differences of opinion.
In doing so, CTED promotes a holistic, all-of society, and comprehensive approach to addressing the conditions conductive to the spread of violent extremism that could be conductive to terrorism, including by encouraging dialogue and collaboration with civil society, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders. In accordance with a number of resolutions2 adopted by the Security Council between 2013 and 2017, as well as the Comprehensive International Framework to Counter Terrorist Narratives3 and the Addendum to the guiding principles on foreign terrorist fighters (2018) (S/2018/1177)4.
CTED, with the full support of the Committee, has actively engaged in a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives in this area:
- Tech Against Terrorism. A public/private partnership launched in April 2017 by CTED, Tech Against Terrorism aims to support the technology industry to develop more effective and responsible approaches to tackling terrorists’ use of the Internet, while respecting human rights. The guiding principle of Tech Against Terrorism is that smaller platforms are most vulnerable to use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. Larger companies are generally better able to address the threat to their systems. Tech Against Terrorism supports technology platforms in the areas of social media, cloud computing, storage, and financial technology (FinTech), helping them to identify and mitigate risk and share knowledge and best practices. It also develops resources to assist such platforms, providing capacity-building and operational support and facilitating their cooperation with Government, civil society, and academia. A further important resource for the promotion of good practices is the Knowledge-Sharing Platform (KSP), a website that is exclusive to members of the Tech Against Terrorism initiative and contains a collection of tools and resources to support their efforts.
- Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). CTED supports the efforts of this industry-led initiative to develop technological solutions, conduct research, and share knowledge with smaller companies to contribute to the global fight against terrorism. The GIFCT implements many of its activities within the framework of the Tech Against Terrorism initiative. As part of the GIFCT’s efforts to share knowledge and best practices, CTED and Tech against Terrorism have cooperated on a series of activities, such as the development and promotion of the KSP and the organization of joint workshops to enhance public/private partnerships. Committed to preserving and respecting the fundamental human rights that terrorism seeks to undermine, the GIFCT also collaborates with a broad range of NGOs, academic experts, Governments, and human rights experts.
- Global Initiative on Handling Electronic Evidence. Accessing digital data produced by terrorists is necessary to bring terrorists to justice. Mindful of the challenges faced by States in their efforts to obtain electronic evidence from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), CTED is currently engaged in a global initiative, jointly implemented with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), aimed at strengthening the capacity of central authorities, prosecutors and investigators to preserve and obtain electronic evidence within the framework of cross-border counter-terrorism investigations. A key project output is the Practical Guide for Requesting Electronic Evidence Across Borders, which was developed through a consultation process that involved numerous stakeholders, including private-sector entities.
- Protection of critical infrastructure. Terrorist groups may eventually acquire the capacity to launch terrorist attacks through the Internet, thereby causing damage to critical infrastructure, industrial control system, or Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Security Council resolution 2341 (2017) directs the Counter-Terrorism Committee, with the support of CTED, to examine Member States’ efforts to protect critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks, related to the implementation of 1373 (2001) and with the aim of identifying good practices, gaps and vulnerabilities in this field. CTED, INTERPOL and UNOCT developed, in 2018, The protection of critical infrastructure against terror attacks: Compendium of good practices, which may in due course be complemented by an addendum addressing cyber issues more specifically.
- Data protection and privacy. CTED proposed to the Working Group on Criminal Justice and Legal Responses to Counter-Terrorism and Countering the Financing of Terrorism of the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact that it launch a project on developing recommended legislative provisions and a compendium of existing good practices on data protection rules to facilitate international cooperation in counter-terrorism (hereinafter referred as “UN CT Programme on Data Protection”). The related project is co-led by CTED, UNODC and OCT.
- Online investigations. The need for States to have the capacity to conduct open source and Dark Web investigations is recognized as a counter-terrorism priority by the Security Council and the Committee, and the Committee’s assessments have begun to focus on such matters (e.g., SALW Dark Web trafficking). UNODC, UNOCT and INTERPOL have all launched capacity-building programmes in this area. CTED has participated in several of these projects and has also provided expertise. Currently, CTED is working closely with UNCCT on a project focusing on online investigations in South Asia and South-East Asia, specifically leading the drafting of a report on recent development and trends in use of the Internet for terrorist purposes and social media and Dark Web investigations.
CTED is also actively engaged on the interactions of new technologies with financing of terrorism, border management and law enforcement, artificial intelligence, and new trends such as the rise of Extreme Right-Wing terrorism, the effect of COVID-19, and the use of gaming platforms and gamification of terrorist propaganda.