White House wants Silicon Valley to help fight terrorism with ‘radicalism scores’

15 Jan 2016

The White House wants to develop better ways to fight radicalism by terrorist organisations using social media

A delegation of anti-terrorism officials from the White House has called on tech companies in Silicon Valley to come up with tools to help defeat radicalisation.

The White House is understood to have issued a memo to participants at a summit it organised in California suggesting that tech companies create “radicalism scores” among their users, according to Fusion.

It acknowledged that such a system would raise the hackles of privacy and civil liberties groups.

It is understood that Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg walked the officials through how Facebook has a system that flags if people appear to be posting suicidal thoughts, prompting the White House officials to see if a similar system could detect if a user is being radicalised.

The use of social media in terms of radicalisation by terrorists to grow their numbers is an issue that is front and centre in the US.

This move comes after the San Bernardino shootings in California, where the shooters involved had posted to Facebook advocating jihad.

According to The Guardian, Tamara Fields, the widow of an American killed in a shooting attack at a Jordanian training centre, has sued Twitter, blaming the social media network for making it easy for groups like the so-called IS to spread propaganda and attract recruits.

Fields said that at the time of her husband’s death in November that IS had an estimated 70,000 accounts on Twitter.

“Without Twitter, the explosive growth of Isis over the last few years into the most-feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” according to the complaint filed in the federal court in Oakland, California.

No back doors for encryption in terrorism fight, urges Apple’s Tim Cook

However, according to The Intercept, Apple CEO Tim Cook is understood to be far from pleased with the idea that FBI director James Comey and other top US government officials also want Silicon Valley to create a special access system that would give law enforcement special access to private, encrypted messages.

Cook has reiterated his call for the White House to issue a strong public statement defending the use of unbreakable encryption.

Cook has spoken out against the Investigatory Powers Bill that is being promoted by the UK home secretary Theresa May, which proposes internet companies leave a backdoor for spy agencies and police services to access their security systems.

Recently, during a visit to Ireland, Cook pointed out that there is no such thing as a back door for the good guys only.

“We feel strongly that the safest approach is for the world to encrypt end-to-end with no back door. This protects the most people. Encryption is not something only a few companies have, it’s not something you can regulate. If you close down a few companies it’s not like the bad guys don’t have encryption of their own. They’ll just go to another source.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years