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Social media firms yet to make a single direct referral to UK counter-terror police

The Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner urged companies to face up to their wider responsibilities.

Social media firms have yet to make a single direct referral to British police over suspected terrorist material, a senior officer has said.

Mark Rowley, the outgoing chief of counter-terrorism policing in the UK, urged firms to consider public safety rather than “profit and customer satisfaction”.

Speaking at a counter-terrorism event in London, he said: “Those extremists who utilise cyber space have proved highly influential and dangerous actors. They have successfully encouraged, directed, enabled and promoted terrorist attacks with the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. The online extremists seem able to act with impunity, occupying spaces owned and managed by legitimate and very wealthy corporations.

“They are effectively private tenants to their communication service provider landlords. In the real world if a landlord knew their property was being used to plan or inspire terrorist attacks you would expect them to show corporate responsibility by informing the authorities and evicting them forthwith. We want to see those same standards applied in the virtual world.”

I am disappointed that in the UK as a police service we are yet to receive a direct referral from them when they have identified such behaviour Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner

The Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, who retires later this month, highlighted the lack of terrorism referrals to police from internet companies.

“I am disappointed that in the UK as a police service we are yet to receive a direct referral from them when they have identified such behaviour. We urge the private sector to think more than terms of profit and customer satisfaction but also consider the wider implication of their considerable role and influence in society and how that impacts on the safety of the public.”

Mr Rowley said he wanted social media firms to work with police in the way banks had been made to co-operate on tracing dirty money.

Last year as well as the five terror attacks in the UK, 10 Islamist plots and four right-wing plots were foiled.

Although he did not single out any specific sites, Mr Rowley told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We are working very hard with social media and other companies across the world who were, frankly, slow to roll their sleeves up and take some responsibility.

“We have seen some big progress on that in the last year or two but there is still a long way to go.

“We get great support on individual investigations but when social media companies come across suspicious behaviour they don’t report it to us, they clean it off their sites but don’t report it to us.”

He suggested that sites could have repeatedly taken down material from an individual “then maybe months later we discover about this dangerous person but we could have been tipped off previously”.

Mr Rowley said: “They are working much better with us than they used to but there is a long way to go.”

He said the banking sector takes its responsibilities to spot “dirty money” really seriously after changing its approach through a combination of “persuasion and regulation” from the authorities.

“I think it is going to take, over years, the same combination of persuasion and regulation with internet companies, made more complex by the fact they trade across the world and they are harder for governments to get their hands on,” he said.

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