EU report on online terrorism calls for 'Report a terrorist' button in browsers

By Graeme Burton
29 Jan 2013 View Comments
Panic buttion

The European Union's Clean IT Project has become the subject of online ridicule following a recommendation in its latest report that a "Report this site for terrorism" button should be integrated into every web browser.

The report, which took two years and €400,000 to produce - with the UK government among the contributors - was intended to distil the wisdom of "government representatives, academics, the internet industry, internet users and non-governmental organisations in the European Union".

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However, instead of providing genuinely practical guidance, the report's 12 "best practices" instead contain little more than vague platitudes, statements of the obvious and unworkable ideas, say its critics. Best practice three, for example, states that many internet service providers should include clauses in their acceptable usage policies stating that "terrorist use of the internet" is unacceptable.

The Project is also calling for an awareness campaign so that "vulnerable groups like children, teenagers and young adults and the circle that surrounds them" are aware of the risks. "Professionals like frontline workers should know what to do when they are confronted with terrorist content," it argues.

The most bizarre recommendation, though, comes in best practice six. The report notes that many websites sporting user-generated content have simple mechanisms for reporting spam or offensive posts. It therefore suggests that browsers should have a similar mechanism built in. "A browser-based reporting mechanism could be developed to allow end users to report terrorist use of the internet," it states.

In addition, governments should set up "referral units" that can take "appropriate action", and use "take-down orders" to remove offending "terrorist" internet content. Finally, the report argues that a pan-EU academic network ought to be established to "expand existing knowledge on terrorist use of the internet, and how best to reduce it".

Critics posting on the online technology site Slashdot pointed out that the Project's "Report terrorism" browser button would be easily sabotaged by users reporting every website, or by malware writers creating tools to report sites automatically, regardless of their content.

Joe McNamee, coordinator of the European Digital Rights initiative (EDRi), said that it meandered meaninglessly from vague to vacuous and back again.

Culture website, meanwhile, described the Clean IT Project as "a bunch of painfully out of touch people coming up with Big Ideas to solve this problem called 'The Internet'. They originally wanted spyware built into your operating system and browser, because that was an awesome idea".

The Project, though, highlighted its own impotence in the introduction to the report, admitting that it has no authority, either in the EU or elsewhere, for its recommendations to be put into practice.

"Because the Clean IT Project had a non-legislative approach, the results cannot be binding in any way. The use of best practices and compliance with the general principles cannot be enforced legally. Organisations are free to use the results of Clean IT, but the implementation of these results is not included in the project objectives and responsibilities."

The Clean IT Project has been criticised in the past for proposing de facto EU-wide internet censorship, according to its critics.

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