The technology giants are breathtakingly irresponsible about terrorism

We know they can be good citizens when they want to be. So why are they acting in ways that could endanger us all?

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

The arrogance and intransigence of some of the technology companies in the fight against terrorism has become extraordinary. We learned this week that one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s murderers, Michael Adebowale, had Facebook accounts closed. Apparently, this was because it was feared he was using them for terrorist activities. No one told the authorities. Even now, our security services — which have helped prevent 40 attacks since 2005 — have not been given full details of what Adebowale was doing online.

What makes the foot-dragging of tech companies inexcusable is that we know they could do more to help prevent terrorist attacks because of what they are doing to combat child sex exploitation. Mark Field, a member of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, says that there’s ‘no doubt that if Adebowale had been preparing a paedophile attack not a terrorist one, the authorities would have been alerted’.

If an online account is closed because a communication service provider believes that it is linked to terrorism, this information should routinely be handed to the authorities, as it is in cases of child sexual exploitation. It might be difficult for technological reasons to hand over more detail. But it does seem odd that an industry defined by its refusal to accept things are impossible is so willing to cite technical impossibility on this matter. An algorithm that could detect potential terrorist activity is an even worthier candidate for one of Google’s ‘moon shots’ than the driverless car.

Technology companies also hide behind the idea that if they fully co-operated with the British government, they would have to do the same with the Chinese and the Iranians. But this excuse fails to distinguish between a liberal, democratic government and authoritarian states.

There are those who argue that if the government wants the technology companies to do more, it should put its requirements in statute. But there are many things that companies are not compelled by law to do that we hope they would do as responsible citizens. For example, if someone repeatedly went into a garden centre and brought a large amount of fertiliser without displaying any interest in planting, we might hope that staff would mention it to the police.

The technology companies’ defence is also undercut by the fact that so many of them are deliberately making users’ messages harder for law enforcement to intercept. On its website, Apple boasts that ‘it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data’ from devices such as iPhones and iPads that use its new operating system. The sheer irresponsibility of this is breathtaking. It means that even with a warrant, the authorities cannot access photos, contacts and emails from these devices.

The fundamental question is what we want the internet to be. Tech libertarians say that the great thing about the internet is that it is beyond the reach of any government. Think of many of the governments in the world and it is easy to see the appeal of this idea. But the truth is that any place beyond the reach of the law is dangerous: ungoverned spaces are a threat whether they are physical or digital.

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  • In2minds

    “But this excuse fails to distinguish between a liberal, democratic
    government and authoritarian states” –

    And how do we do this? The UK has more CCTV per head of population than
    even China! James Forsyth, relentlessly on message again.

    • “The UK has more CCTV per head of population than even China!”

      Speaking of China, watch for the upcoming fake collapse of the Chinese Communist government in the near future…

      “Since at least the early 1970s, the Communist party of China has been poised to create a spectacular but controlled “democratization” at any appropriate time. The party had by then spent two decades consolidating its power, building a network of informants and agents that permeate every aspect of Chinese life, both in the cities and in the countryside. Government control is now so complete that it will not be seriously disturbed by free speech and democratic elections; power can now be exerted through the all-pervasive but largely invisible infrastructure of control. A transition to an apparently new system, using dialectical tactics, is now starting to occur.” — Playing the China Card (The New American, Jan. 1, 1991).


      “A campaign for a new system of World Government will be launched at Summit level and will be accompanied by pressure from below, the active use of agents of influence and secret assassinations of leaders who are seen as obstacles. The campaign will come as a surprise to the US Administration. In the ensuing negotiations, the US President of the day will find himself facing a combined pressure from the Russians and the Chinese. The Chinese will by then have adopted a ‘reformed’, pseudo-democratic system.” — KGB Defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn, “The Perestroika Deception”, April 1993, p. 166.


    • yes – good point! the uk is less democratic and more authoritarian than china!

  • Jenson Phaedor

    The media that screams from every level of filth & lies for self-regulation causes more war and death than any ‘ungoverned space’ in the universe.

  • Diggery Whiggery

    Because for all their the dominance that comes from being a well established name, big internet companies have no economic moat. As soon as they start policing this or forbidding that people will start moving elsewhere and competitors would spring up in less rigorous juristictions.

    At the moment the lion’s share of this stuff goes through American companies and the NSA can keep an eye on it more easily that way. Is it better to be able to trace it but expose ourselves to it, or protect ourselves from it and remain ignorant?

    The real question to ask is not why Facebook didn’t pass on the info but why the NSA didn’t?

    Until this world has a global government (which isn’t possible or desirable) or starts to function on the basis of nation states with physical and virtual national borders this problem is unsolvable. I don’t approve of China’s internal policy on censorship, the freedom of expression or their human rights record, but I do think they’re the only country to appreciate the need to maintain (or at least try to maintain) a national virtual border. On that policy alone they are right.

    An authoritarian country cannot remain authoritarian without maintaining a border against freedom, but equally, a free country cannot remain free without maintaining a border against authoritarianism. If we’re to push global government to the limits we need to sort out the global cultural values first, otherwise these world culture wars are going to go on forever.

  • John Carins

    Thinking that you could rely on the Tech giants to provide the necessary intelligence is no panacea. Good credible intelligence comes from human sources. Why not re title this article to “Certain communities are breathtakingly irresponsible about terrorism”? Moreover, terrorist organisations would soon learn to swamp the Tech giants with false information. How on earth could any organisation determine the wheat from the chaff? Trying to pin any blame on these companies is a distraction and avoiding the real issues.

  • “The technology giants are breathtakingly irresponsible about terrorism”

    I’m waiting for The Spectator to cease posting Marxist psy-op…

    Here’s the Woolwich, London sidewalk that Lee Rigby was said to have had his head partially severed. Note there’s no pools of blood…


    …and here’s the sidewalk with the pools of blood, after the arrival of the armed police…


    Oops, MI5 forgot to add the pools of blood before the cell phone cameras started taking pictures! By the way, why is that lady in the background calmly walking by, unconcerned? Because the incident was a drill that went live, which is called a false flag operation.

    Now you know why the spectators were just standing around taking pictures at the scene, or calmly going about their business, walking by the “murderers”…


    and another unconcerned pedestrian that no one is preventing from walking right by one of the “murderers”…


    Then we have the pedestrian with the video phone who stands calmly as one of the “murderers” approaches him and records the “murderer’s” rambling speech on his video phone!

    The so-called “War on Terror” is a USSR & Allies-tasked operation being carried out by the co-opted governments of the West, the purpose being to (1) destroy the prominence of the West in the eyes of the world, where the West is seen (i) invading nations without cause; (ii) causing chaos around the globe; and (iii) killing over one-million civilians and boasting of torture; (2) close off non-Russian supplies of oil for export, thereby increasing the price of oil, the higher price allowing oil exporting Russia to maintain economic stability while she modernizes and increases her military forces; (3) destroy the United States Armed Forces via the never-ending “War on Terror”; the ultimate purpose of the aforementioned to (4) bring about the demise of the United States in the world, opening up a political void to be filled by a new pan-national entity composed of Europe and Russia (replacing the European Union), a union “From the Atlantic to Vladivostok”; which will (5) see the end of NATO.

    The failed socialist inspired and controlled pan-European revolutions that swept the continent in 1848 thought Marxists and socialists a powerful lesson, that lesson being they couldn’t win overtly, so they adopted the tactic of infiltration of the West’s political parties/institutions.

    Take a look at what the Russian government ordered the Russian Ministry of Defense to keep on the masthead of its official newspaper…see if you notice something odd…


    “Krasnaya Zvezda” is Russian for “Red Star”, the official newspaper of Soviet and later Russian Ministry of Defense. The paper’s official designation is, “Central Organ of the Russian Ministry of Defense.” Note the four Soviet emblems next to the still existing Soviet era caption titled “Red Star”(!), one of the Soviet emblems including the image of Lenin!

    Then for Russian Naval vessels, take a look at the following photo from 2013, and note what’s still appended to the bows (enlarge picture)…


    See the Soviet era Red Star still attached to the port bow, near the anchor!

    Now, take a look at the Soviet nationality roundel on a Russian military aircraft in 2009:


    Take a look at what’s still on Aeroflot aircraft…


    Note the Communist emblem of the hammer & sickle stenciled on the Aeroflot aircraft’s fuselage! Imagine the Swastika still on Lufthansa commercial aircraft!

    And yet more…not one statue to Lenin, nor any other Communist “hero”, was destroyed In Russia after the Soviets were “freed” of Communist oppression back in late 1991*…

    “Almost every town in Russia has a prominent statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, father of the October Revolution…”


    …and those statues that were taken down in Russia, and other republics that make up the USSR, are safely hidden in parks or museums, to be eventually returned to their former locations after the defeat of the West.

    The only statues to Lenin (and other Communist heroes) taken down in Russia were located in those areas where Western tourists visit the most. Those statues were carefully lifted and relocated, in the case of Moscow, to Fallen Monument Park…


    The same subterfuge is taking place in other republics that make up the USSR, where statues to Lenin (and Marx) taken down are hidden, not destroyed, in the case of Tallinn, Estonia, at the Maarjamaë Palace…


    …and in Lithuania, statues to Lenin and Marx are located at Grūtas Park, which also incredulously has, now get this, a Soviet theme park, replete with “…a mini-zoo and cafes, all containing relics of the Soviet era. On special occasions actors stage re-enactments of various Soviet-sponsored festivals”!…



    Now you know why up until 2013 the “electorates” of Russia, Ukraine and Georgia were only “electing” for president Soviet era vanguard Communist Party member Quislings, except for the first president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a true dissident who didn’t even last nine months in office before he was ousted in a coup, later said to have committed “suicide”. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was a failed test run to see if a non-Communist Party member president could be controlled.
    *The only statues to Lenin that were destroyed in the “former” USSR occurred in February 2014, when hundreds were toppled…
    Google: ‘lenin statues ru leninopad’


    …due to the weakened security apparatus within the nation, where most of the Ukrainian Army was in either Syria or Iraq, or preparing to enter Iraq from Turkey, pretending to be Muslim “Jihadists” (Islamic State). The Islamic State “Jihadists” attired in Ninja uniforms, wearing the silly balaclava masks, are the Ukrainians, hiding their pale Caucasian/Slavic identities under those masks…


    Those are professional soldiers cradling their weapons in the military stand down position, with trigger finger positioned just outside the trigger guard.

    • Bumble Bee

      isn’t it irresponsible for mental institutions to allow this much internet time?

      • “isn’t it irresponsible for mental institutions to allow this much internet time?”

        That’s where the truth always lies in society. Ask any Soviet dissident that was psychiatric institutionalized.

        Now in your case, the problem would be cognitive inability to assess the glaring truths I posted. Let’s say you’re suffering from cognitive dissonance. And since you were kind enough to reply, you get a prize…

        Press TV reporter Serena Shim was killed after reporting, “We were some of the first people on the ground –if not the first people – to get that story of…militants going in through the Turkish border…I’ve got images of them in World Food Organization [sic] trucks. It was very apparent that they were militants by their beards, by the clothes they wore, and they were going in there with NGO trucks.”

        Serena is referring to United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) trucks. The link below shows some of the newest trucks donated to WFP by Russia…


    • Richard Williams

      You can see the pools of blood in both pictures you plonker.

      There are clearly 3 thin lines of blood on both that lead to a dark patch. It’s just a lot more clear on the overhead picture.

      • “There are clearly 3 thin lines of blood on both that lead to a dark patch.”

        Those thin lines are GREY too (pre-drawn on the sidewalk), and the grey patch is part of the same grey patch in the overhead picture. In fact, those gray blotches are seen in other sidewalk tiles.

        “It’s just a lot more clear on the overhead picture.”

        Red is red, not grey, just like the pink line near the curb in the overhead photo is pink in the street level photo.

        Cognitive dissonance messing with your eyes?

        I guess next your going to say when women are standing near to murderers chopping up people, they’re natural reaction is to stand calmly and take pictures, or even walk past the knife-wielding sociopaths!

    • Angry Viking

      Yes, great, an online photograph of nonexistent provenance. That’s really convincing. Good job there aren’t such things as image-editing programs which could be used to doctor an image to bolster one’s conspiracy theories….

      • “Good job there aren’t such things as image-editing programs which could be used to doctor an image to bolster one’s conspiracy theories….”

        In fact, all the photos of the area show the same non-existence of the pools of blood. Look for yourself…


        However, I did find a photoshopped video of the incident…


        Notice there’s no red pools of blood on the ground either, just the dirty grey patch on the sidewalk tile, also there’s no sun present, because the sky is overcast by clouds. Now watch as the “murderer” holding the knifes, walking back and forth over where the “pools of blood” are supposed to be, is casting a shadow over the PRECISE area where the “pools of blood” are supposed to be. Again, the sun is behind the clouds which is why you see no shadows from any person or object. The only shadow we see is the photoshopped shadow over the “pools of blood” the “murderer” is walking back and forth over.

        By the way, the “murderer” holding the knives is actually stepping all over the “pools of blood”, but there’s no bloodied shoe prints anywhere at the incident location in the numerous after incident photos.

        Thanks for replying. If you hadn’t I wouldn’t have found the photoshopped shadows!

  • Dodgy Geezer

    … any place beyond the reach of the law is dangerous: ungoverned spaces are a threat whether they are physical or digital…

    But not half so dangerous as a world where there is no place to hide from tyranny…

  • xDemosthenesx

    This is typical statist rubbish from Forsyth and the Spectator in general. We must watch everything! The people are not to be trusted! Not that many steps from this to telescreens in all houses. After all, a responsible citizen wouldn’t mind doing their bit and being watched for the greater good.

    It also displays a predictable lack of understanding of how the internet works. It is not like a garden centre. It is like an electricity producer. Do we condemn nPower for providing electricity to the houses of terrorists? Well we should! They would never be able to carry out their heinous crimes without electricity. Same with mobile phone companies. All of those phone-calls where they conspired – couldn’t they have done something? Shouldn’t they be forced to listen to each conversation we make just in case?

    • JimHHalpert

      If nPower had already cut someone’s power because they thought they were planning terrorism, then, yes, I do think we would condemn them if they didn’t then go on to tell the authorities. That’s Forsyth’s point.

      As is always the case with Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., pace their “don’t be evil” bullshit, they need to feel some incentives. Start bringing criminal cases against them and jailing executives if they behave as above.

      These transnational companies are amoral citizens of the world, so to hope that they’ll be “responsible citizens” is a completely relative term. If Facebook had a presence in Paedophilistan, you can bet it would *not* be reporting cases of suspected grooming.

      The matter of keeping messages secret is completely different. If Apple, etc., didn’t do it, people would simply install apps that did. This is a case of the laws of mathematics taking precedence over the laws of the land.

    • lobotomisedjournalist

      This is an astonishingly ignorant reply. It seems that you know absolutely nothing about how web search engines work. Of course algorithms can be formulated to pick up suspicious activity in exactly the same way that they can trawl for paedophile activity, as the article actually mentions. But don’t stretch yourself by trying to comprehend what you read – just react like a teenage libertarian.

  • Bumble Bee

    waiting for the first ‘Jews control the internet’ post ….

  • ‘‘…there’s no doubt that if Adebowale had been preparing a paedophile attack not a terrorist one, the authorities would have been alerted.”

    …yes, because that did a fat lot of good with those vibrant enriching rape gangs, didn’t it?

  • MC73

    Not just the web companies. what about their families and friends? What about people the worked with, or who served them in shops?

    What about all of you? Why aren’t you protecting the innocent from Muzzie and nonce terror? Do you know what your loved ones are doing online? What about that bloke down the street who looks a bit funny? If he’s brown he’s a terrorist, if not he’s bound to be a nonce. Shop him now! Or you’re guilty too, you noncing jihadist.

    • Jim

      If you don’t know the ‘funny looking’, ‘brown’ bloke is a ‘noncing jihadist’ you can’t very well dob him in for it.
      But if you have very good information that he is then you should shop him immediately or you are one guilty mofo.

  • Lorenzo

    As a stranger from a faraway land, I’m curious to hear from the natives who they think is more irresponsible about terrorism: technology giants for trying to protect what’s left of personal privacy, or a government that is too PC to confront violent religious nutters?

    • Harryagain

      Quite right.
      If I had written the Koran (a document as bad as Mein Kampf), I would be locked up by now.
      If the UK government was serious, they would ban this evil cult, close down all mosques and deport non recanters.

  • GraveDave

    The people behind Facebook have often been shown to be pro freedom when it comes to ‘Muslim radicals’. But when it comes to ultra right wing,’hate groups’, not so much

    • moronophobe

      if you haven’t already, you should listen to paul weston.

  • goggyturk

    Absolute garbage. James Forsyth would be better advised to list the various failures of the security services in this case and ask why a single Facebook message thread has been used to deflect attention from that.

  • Tom M

    Just remember Mr Forsyth that Nazi Germany’s Gestapo didn’t need to twist anybody’s arm to have them divulge information about their neighbours all they needed to do was make it acceptable (and or profitable) to do so.
    Once it is socially acceptable, or seen as your duty, then all sorts of unacceptable things happen when people start disclosing information about others.
    As an example of what can happen when such observations are made look at the USA a few days ago. Someone phones the police and tells them he thinks a child might have a gun. After the call the police (whatever you think about them) are now on a higher alert than they might otherwise have been (one of the things they are now considering is what would happen to them if this really is a gun, they do nothing and someone else is shot). The bottom line is the child is shot dead. Whilst the police will get the blame, and rightly so, nothing will happen. Whereas something would undoubteldy have happened to them if the child had shot someone else. A chain of events triggered by a citizen doing his duty.
    The security services are the best equipped they have ever been and the Police have more powers than they need. It doesn’t need a country of informers to make it work. It just needs the security services to do their job

  • Mike

    Tony Blair created the biggest threat for terrorism in the UK by his warmongering in the middle east along with his mass immigration program to bring in third world wannabee Jihadists by the tens of thousands. Cameron, the other unacceptable face of Blairism is no better and has just continued this program of allowing terrorists a free rein.

    Who needs enemies when you have leaders like these two low lifes !

  • Mike

    “Mark Field, a member of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee,
    says that there’s ‘no doubt that if Adebowale had been preparing a
    paedophile attack not a terrorist one, the authorities would have been

    I seem to recall Nick Griffin raised this very subject many years ago about what was happening in Rotherham and all he got for his pains was a stitch up by the BBC & the CPS who dragged him to court over an alleged hate crime.

    Even when concrete evidence is put right in front of the authorities over what is happening they brush it under the carpet so lets put blame where it really should be rather than ducking the issue and trying to blame internet companies.

  • Earthenware

    “ungoverned spaces are a threat”

    Did you actually read that before you wrote it? Do you understand the implications of what you are saying?

    Please spend the weekend reading some 20th Century European history.

  • Pacificweather

    The social media are very realistic about terrorism. They know it’s rarer than hens teeth and the Security Services are not really capable of dealing with it. If they felt in a campaigning mood they could report cyclist running red lights and pulling up on the inside of lorries.

  • Exactly. Look at #CameronMustGo. That’s probably terrorists.

  • Jim

    I don’t expect Facebook or any other site to monitor everything that is posted, but if they close someones account because of potentially criminal activity then they should, like the man says pass that information on.
    If a knew my neighbour was a paedo would it be enough to not talk to him anymore, or should I tell someone? Of course there may be a moral scale applicable to various crimes but I think terrorism comes in above the bar.
    And as for having to give information to other states, with the implication that that could mean any information, I just don’t see it. Where is Facebook registered? Pretty sure it’s the USA, so since the government there would I’m sure like to have such information, they should hand it over, there is no obligation to hand over information on the personal life of a Chinese dissident.
    If Facebook was acting responsibly this wouldn’t even be a story. The terrorists would and will just use another website. Websites are easy to set up and messages can be sent and deleted easily with or without Facebook.

  • Harryagain

    This is just an attempt by the true criminals to shift blame.
    The fault lies with the traitorous politicians that let all these people into the country in the first place.
    ie the LibLabCon.

  • JohnCrichton89

    The fact that people are plotting to murder us and install an Islamic dictatorship/theocracy is the problem.
    That they abuse the rights and freedoms we afford everyone in our society doesn’t mean we have to take them away from everybody. So sick of this. If our governments really had our safety in mind they would never have let Muslim flock here in the first place.
    We have already had to sacrifice so much in the name of ‘community cohesion’ with this demographic and it only ever gets worse. What I wouldn’t give for a white Christian country, that I might jump off this sinking ship.
    This coming from an Atheist.

  • Mike

    Aren’t we forgetting about all the banks who knowingly & willingly laundered terrorism money ? At least the internet companies do provide a service we can choose from unlike the banking cartels !

  • Pacificweather

    Why would you expect private companies to be more competent at security than governments and their security agencies? Is always best to avoid thought for the best response below the line and that is exactly what Mr. Forsyth has done here.

  • Roger Hudson

    Do you think really dangerous terrorists use social media?. The IRA were very communications savvy but didn’t want mass killings yet were often very dangerous, imagine the Baltic Exchange bomb if they hadn’t used warnings . When the terrorists go back to the postcard and the phonebox GCHQ will be truly screwed( that’s why the government press to get rid of public boxes).

  • freebird

    Who decides what is a “liberal, democratic government” and what is an “authoritarian state”? What is Russia for example? Maybe even Switzerland is somewhat “authoritarian” since it voted against the unrestricted mobility of EU “citizens”. I think we will get another big brother technology which gets out of control, sooner or later.

  • andylowings

    It has always seemed to me that the Internet is just too good to last….In the end governments will get their dead hands on it, and it will go the way of television and films (if not Building Control; Taxation, rent control et al ) ….
    Those barbarians killed Lee Rigby and they and their backers are guilty.

    • Bonkim

      The internet will takeover society and make money.

  • Bonkim

    Social media wants to make money not safeguard civil rights or freedom of speech. They operate to safeguard their revenue – if you think they are there for the public good – you must be an idiot.

  • Hogspace

    Who is to say that X or Y is a terrorist?
    Clearly almost the entire population of Gaza to any right minded individual. But there are those lunatics who would label the long suffering Israelis. Similarly in Ireland those who would label all English people. Most of England would label Tony Blair.

  • Terry Field

    Corporations are concepts, not people; they are morality – free.
    Terrorism makes news, It is good business for the media businesses.
    This is fine, and to be expected.
    We all consume each other.
    This is just a small new example.
    Peas be upon you.

  • aloha597

    Despite all of the fear-mongering about man-made global-warming, it appears that polar vortexes are becoming more common.