Tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter facing a crackdown from the government over how they tackle terrorism have found a surprising ally – the man responsible for overseeing the government’s own laws on terror.
Max Hill, QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has likened plans by Prime Minister Theresa May to fine companies for hosting extremist content to censorship of the internet in China.
“I struggle to see how it would help if our parliament were to criminalise tech company bosses who ‘don’t do enough’. How do we measure ‘enough’? What is the appropriate sanction? We do not live in China, where the internet simply goes dark for millions when government so decides. Our democratic society cannot be treated that way,” he told a conference audience, the Times reports.
Read more: Theresa May vows ‘enough is enough’ in the wake of the London terror attack
“We do not lack for legal powers to bring these cases to court,” he added.
May singled out technology companies in the wake of the London Bridge attack, accusing them of providing a “safe space” for terrorism”. She doubled down on the approach in co-operation with French President Emmanuel Macron, proposing fines against companies in a joint crackdown between the UK and France, penalties already introduced in Germany.
Home secretary Amber Rudd, who has repeatedly called for tech companies to ditch end-to-end encryption, praised Hill’s “wealth of experience and legal expertise” when he was named to lead the watchdog earlier this year.
“With the threat from terrorism continuing to evolve and diversify, it is vital we have robust oversight to ensure our counter-terrorism laws are fair, necessary and proportionate,” she said at the time.
Tech experts and privacy groups have warned that such a crackdown risk pushing terror networks into even darker parts of the web and raised concerns over free speech and policing the internet. Tech companies have said they are engaging with government globally on counter-terrorism efforts.
Read more: Tech firms face fines over “extremist” content under joint UK-France plan
Speaking at a conference on terrorism and social media, Hill backed greater co-operation between tech firms and law enforcement.
“Companies who make eye-watering sums of money from our everyday chatter need to be brought firmly onside, they do not need to be forced offside,” he said, the Times reports.
Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter last week formed a new forum to fight terrorism. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism will co-ordinate thier efforts.