CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – With extremists finding fertile ground for recruitment online, the White House is dispatching top national security officials to Silicon Valley to seek the tech industry’s help in disrupting the Islamic State group and other terrorists.
At a high-level session on Friday, leaders from major technology and Internet companies will discuss ways to use technology to stop terrorists from radicalizing people online and spurring them to violence, according to a meeting agenda obtained by The Associated Press. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are slated to attend the meeting, along with President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and his top counterterrorism adviser.
The meeting in San Jose, California, comes as the Obama administration tries to beef up cooperation with social media groups and online companies whose platforms are often used by extremists to attract followers, disseminate their message and organize attacks. Obama said in a recent speech that he planned to “urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.”
At Friday’s session, government officials plan to tell technology experts how terrorists use technology, including encryption. They’ll also discuss ways the government and tech companies can “help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL,” the agenda says, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State. Another goal is to identify ways for law enforcement to better identify terrorists online and stop them from carrying out attacks.
Increasingly, digital platforms have become tools of radicalization used by the Islamic State, a group Obama recently denounced as “bunch of killers with good social media.” Slick online magazines, highly produced videos and social networks like Facebook and Twitter have all played roles in the group’s propaganda machine.
After last month’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, Facebook found messages by 29-year-old Tashfeen Malik around the time of the attack that included a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State’s leader, although there were no indications Islamic State had directed the attack.
But confronting the Islamic State on the Internet has raised difficult questions for U.S. policymakers about how to balance counterterrorism against privacy, civil liberties and the hands-off tradition that has fueled the Internet’s growth. Especially controversial is the federal government’s desire for a way to circumvent encryption technology that individuals use to protect their privacy but terrorists can exploit to keep their actions hidden from law enforcement.
In Congress, lawmakers have introduced legislation requiring social media companies to report online to law enforcement any terrorist activity they detect, such as planning, recruiting or distribution of terrorist material. But tech industry representatives have said new laws could result in excessive burdens and overreporting of unhelpful data, complicating their efforts to detect legitimate threats.