MI5 seeks access to FaceBook and WhatsApp

MI5 seeks access to FaceBook and WhatsApp

Friday, 18 September 2015 13:02
Written by Posted By Editor

Social media companies have ‘ethical duty’ to shop terrorists, says MI5 chief as he demands more powers to snoop Facebook and WhatsApp messages

Director General Andrew Parker spoke in first interview by a serving boss
Head of MI5 said social media companies have ‘duty’ to report terrorists
Said internet poses challenge to agency and its ability to counter threats
Terror group ISIS use social media to radicalise and even recruit members


MI5’s director general has said social media companies have an ‘ethical duty’ to expose and report terrorists to the security services as he backed the Government’s proposed Snoopers’ Charter.

In the first ever interview by a serving MI5 chief Andrew Parker backed new Government legislation which would allow security services to monitor online communications by would-be terrorists.

There have been a number of high profile instances of terrorists using sites like Facebook and Twitter and encrypted messaging app Whatsapp to radicalise, recruit and plot their terror attacks.

MI5 chief Andrew Parker (pictured) has backed new Government legislation which would allow security services to monitor online social media communications by would-be terrorists

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Parker, 53,who has been director general of MI5 since April 2013, said the internet and new technologies were posing new challenges to his agency and its ability to counter threats.

Under the Draft Communications Data Bill – known as the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ – currently being considered by the Government, along with sweeping new surveillance powers internet firms could be forced to hand over sensitive messages sent on apps and other encrypted services to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

The rise of terrorist groups like ISIS has coincided with online technological advances – meaning would-be terrorists are using the ever-expanding world of social media to communicate with one another and even radicalise and recruit thousands of young would-be jihadis.

Home Secretary Theresa May’s proposed plans would bolster the capabilities of spies and police, but the legislation faces a battle from privacy and human rights campaigners who say such measures represent an assault on freedoms.

A report looking into the May 2013 murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby found shortly before
the attack killer Michael Adebowale (above) had discussed killing a soldier on Facebook
with a foreign-based extremist known as Foxtrot

Intelligence chiefs and Prime Minister David Cameron have argued for years that Britain needs to give security agencies greater powers – but the plans have attracted widespread opposition, fuelled in part by revelations by Edward Snowden, who suggested American and British spies conduct the mass monitoring of communications.

But speaking today Mr Parker was quick to say the powers would not be used to ‘monitor the lives of British public’ but instead would be used to keep an eye on those ‘who wish to harm us’.

He said: ‘We need to be able to do in the modern age what we’ve always done through our history in being able to find and stop people – and that means that we need to be able to monitor the communications of terrorists, spies and others and obtain data about their communications’.

Last year the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into the May 2013 murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby were published and found shortly before the attack killer Michael Adebowale had discussed killing a soldier on Facebook with a foreign-based extremist known as Foxtrot.

While the report concluded the murder could not have been prevented, it said both of his killers had appeared in intelligence investigations – but the UK authorities did not have access to the details of the conversation until June 2013, when they were disclosed to GCHQ.

The report by the Intelligence and Security Committee said: ‘Had MI5 had access to this exchange, their investigation into Adebowale would have become a top priority.’

Parker, 53, warned the level of terrorist plotting against Britain is at its highest for nearly four decades as he backed new powers to monitor communications
At the time Facebook said that it did not comment on individual cases, but added: ‘Facebook’s policies are clear, we do not allow terrorist content on the site and take steps to prevent people from using our service for these purposes.’

Mr Parker said today: ‘In that case, the Intelligence and Security Committee concluded that had that happened it might have made a material difference to the outcome.

‘There is a real question here about responsibility for those who carry this information.

‘Some of the social media companies operate arrangements for their own purposes under their codes of practice, which cause them to close accounts sometimes because of what is carried.

‘I think there is then a question about why not come forward? If there is something that concerns terrorism, or child sex exploitation or concerns some other appalling area of crime, why would the company not come forward? That was the question the ISC was raising.’

He added that online data encryption is creating a situation where the police and intelligence agencies ‘can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the communication of people they believe to be terrorists’.

He said it is a ‘very serious’ issue as ‘it’s in nobody’s interests that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of authorities.’

He added that social media companies, without naming any, have an ‘ethical responsibility’ to alert agencies to potential threats and that internet companies need to comply with security requests for people’s data.

Mr Parker said: ‘Because of that threat we face and the way the terrorists operate and the way we all live our lives today, it is necessary that if we are to find and stop the people who mean us harm, MI5 and others need to be able to navigate the internet to find terrorist communication.’

Director General of MI5 Andrew Parker (pictured) appeared in his first live interview to discuss new legislation being considered by Parliament which would give security services greater powers to monitor terrorists online
‘We need to be able to use data sets so we can join the dots, to be able to find and stop the terrorists who mean us harm before they are able to bring the plots to fruition.

‘We have been pretty successful at that over recent years, but it is becoming more difficult to do it as technology changes faster and faster.’

In April the Daily Mail revealed how encrypted messaging apps such as Kik, Surespot, Wickr and Telegram were being used by Islamist extremists to recruit vulnerable British youngsters.

The apps – hugely popular with teenagers – claim to offer total privacy, with digital encryption so strong that it cannot be hacked even by secret services.

Mr Parker also warned the terror threat level in Britain is at its highest for 32 years and revealed that the police and security services needed to intervene to foil six terrorist plots over the past 12 months – adding the threat was ‘growing’.

‘That is the highest number I can recall in my 32-year career, certainly the highest number since 9/11,’ he said. ‘It represents a threat which is continuing to grow, largely because of the situation in Syria and how that affects our security.’


Talha Asmal, 17, (pictured) is reported to be Britain’s youngest ever suicide bomber

Calls are mounting for more to be done to tackle radicalisation of teenagers online after 17-year-old Talha Asmal was reported to have become Britain’s youngest ever suicide bomber.

Talha, 17, is alleged to have fled his home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in March, to join ISIS. He reportedly detonated a vehicle fitted with explosives while fighting for the group in Iraq.

His family said he had been exploited by extremists on the internet ‘in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming’.

Unbeknown to them and completely against their will, they said he travelled to Iraq via Turkey and fell under the spell of ISIS handlers who are ‘too cowardly to do their own dirty work’.

Shahid Malik, a former government minister and a family friend of the Asmals, said yesterday: ‘This is a clear indication of just how successful the evil Isis groomers have been in poisoning and brainwashing Talha and kids like him.’

The former reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, also called on the Government to work with computer programmers and social media companies to counter extremist propaganda online.

It came after three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green, East London, left the UK in February to join ISIS.

Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana all disappeared from their homes and flew to Turkey, before crossing the border into Syria.

It is understood they were following another 15-year-old girl who had travelled there in December. As many as 600 people from the UK have travelled to join ISIS jihadis in Syria and Iraq, including many young women.

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