The Current

Can regulating the Internet stop terror attacks?

British Prime Minister Theresa May says tech giants need to crack down on online terrorist activity because they're creating "safe spaces" for terrorists, but others say that will just push terrorist activities further underground.
The recent terrorist attack in London has prompted questions of whether cyberspace should be regulated to prevent terrorist activity. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

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British Prime Minister Theresa May believes a key battleground against terrorism is online.

After the deadly terrorist attack on London Bridge on June 3, May made a public statement stating governments need to regulate the Internet to "prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning."

Her comments renewed questions about what tech industry titans can do to stop their platforms from becoming breeding grounds for terrorist activity.

Terrorism expert Mubin Shaikh says the Internet is a "force multiplier" when it comes to radicalization, particularly on social media.

"I was online with ISIS foreign fighters for three years … and I watched the phenomenon proliferate before my very eyes," Shaikh tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"I saw them using Twitter and Facebook to recruit, to incite, to plot attacks, and I was amazed that Twitter would not act on them and Facebook would not act on them," he says.

Shaikh believes social media platforms need to bear a sense of social responsibility, but they are more focused on protecting their customers' interests and their bottom line.

"The last thing that they would want is to tell their customer base, 'Yes, we will turn over information to the authorities,'" he explains.

Paul Bernal is a lecturer in information technology at the UEA School of Law in Norwich, England. He argues the British Prime Minister is using tech companies as a scapegoat rather than working with them to find a solution. 

He says governments have to find a way to deal with online terrorist activity without infringing on people's privacy and destroying the benefits of technology that people have become accustomed to, like human interaction.

"She even left open the possibility of shutting down platforms that aren't sufficiently compliant. And when you hear the words like that, you normally think of places like China or North Korea, which is a little bit disturbing," he says.

According to Bernal, police officers in the U.K. "police by consent", meaning the public is aware of the methods and approaches they use. Bernal believes governments should do the same with regards to the Internet.

"We have to understand that some people will say stuff we really don't like and then we have to deal with the consequences, rather than stopping them before they fall," he explains.

"When you have proper privacy and security, it helps everybody — they work together."

Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Sarah Evans.