Police unit set up to combat terrorist websites

Summary:The team has authority to take down sites providing information helpful to terrorists, and will be aided by reports submitted by the public

The Association of Chief Police Officers has created a new unit devoted to tackling terrorism activity online, accompanied by a Directgov portal for people to report suspected terrorist websites.

The new team, part of Acpo's anti-terrorism Prevent Delivery Unit, can demand that material be removed or websites be taken down if they provide information that could be useful to terrorists or glorify acts of terrorism. The police gained the powers to do this in the Terrorism Act 2006.

The team is part of a government scheme, announced by the Home Office on Monday, that will respond to reports from the public as well as actively seek out illegal material and work with industry.

"The pilot scheme aims to make the internet a more hostile environment for terrorists and violent extremists who seek to exploit modern technology," the Home Office said in a statement.

The associated Directgov page encourages people to consider reporting offensive or suspected illegal material directly to the website's operators before informing the police.

Illegal content includes information intended to be useful to terrorists, such as bomb-making instructions, guides to making poisons or guides to targets, as well as material praising terrorism or calling for racial or religious violence.

Security minister Lord West said the programme was designed to protect the public, as well as giving individuals a way of challenging offensive or illegal material.

"The internet is not a lawless forum and should reflect the legal and accepted boundaries of society," Lord West said in a statement.

The Terrorism Act allows police to ask for material to be removed or altered within two working days. If a content provider refuses the request, this is not an offence in itself. However, it means the provider cannot plead a defence of "non-endorsement" if they are charged with encouraging terrorist acts or distributing terrorist publications, according to the Home Office.

Last year, international-affairs thinktank Chatham House called for a centrally co-ordinated response to cyberthreats, while Lord Ashdown has spoken of the need for an international body to co-ordinate action against cyber-terrorism.

Topics: Networking

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