Essay: Radicalization – The role of the Internet & India’s reponse

Internet has revolutionised our lives and has changed many aspects of how we work, live, shop, conduct our hobbies and the ways we form and maintain our relationships. Due to its global reach and unbounded fetter, Internet has become the integral part of business, recreation, education, personal life and social-networking.

Most profoundly, the internet has transformed the way we communicate and has dramatically reduced the cost of communication. Internet has enabled unlimited access to much of the world’s knowledge and begun to organise it in a way that makes it more searchable.

It has made it easier to find people and create networks among likeminded individuals, across great distances and beyond national borders and it has lowered the threshold for engaging in ‘risky’ or ‘embarrassing’ behaviour because users can interact anonymously. It is not surprising that terrorists and extremists have adopted it as one of the tools of their trade.

The use of new technology by extremists is looking to organise and/or use violence, whether in a group or alone (including how this is changing the presence of women online) and the ways in which the internet has been used as an operation tool by terrorists (to recruit, train, coordinate and communicate) has raised an alarm.

There is an immediate need to formulate range of policy, including the emerging priority area of counter-narratives to take on the dominant messages of extremists and challenge their legitimacy.

The Role of the Internet in the Radicalization

Extremists and terrorists use the Internet as an operational tool, recruitment, communication, training and coordination as well as wider propaganda efforts which feed into all of the above.

Terrorist recruitment

There have been growing concerns over the use of Internet for recruitment to terrorist organisations or activities.  Internet allows individuals to ‘self-radicalise’ without input or encouragement from individuals in an off-line setting (so-called ‘lone wolves’). Internet allows determined individuals to communicate more easily and find likeminded individuals some distance away.  There are number of websites which try to attract youth through its glossy presentation, religious and emotional appeals posted on its web page. For example “Jihad Recollection” is targeted towards Americans with an aim of getting them to execute Jihad. Even recently a youth from Mumbai was recruited in ISIS being influenced by their propaganda spread on such websites.

The term “lone wolf” is used for individuals who, while appearing to carry out extremist actions alone and without any physical outside instigation.

Spreading extremist belief

The Internet plays an important role in spreading extremist belief. It provides a platform for the user to confirm once belief and information they are looking for. It allows individuals to find like-minded people by creating an online community, where they are not able to find this offline more easily.

It acts like an ‘echo chamber’ for extremists who can find others to reflect back to their views and further amplifies them. Even the most extreme ideas and suggestions receive the most encouragement and support. Internet impact is quantitative rather than qualitative, as it helps to reach to global audience.

There are virtual media organisations that play an important role in creating jihadist publications and audiovisual materials, which can then be picked up and passed on via a multitude of websites and forums.

The most important one are: As-Sahab (‘Al Sahab Institute for Media Production’), Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), and Al-Fajr (Media Centre).

It is also worth noting the existence of a small number of ‘mother sites’ which are the source of information and content. For example, Al-Fajr controlled and ran a number of (former) mother sites such as al-Ekhlaas, al-Boraq, al-Firdaws and al-Hesbah. They all are known for their considerable reach among netizens.

Training for Jihadists

There has been much speculation about whether online spaces could replace physical training camps by providing coaching, information and guidance to recruits. But, terrorist have started providing do-it-yourself information along with the radicalization provided online.

The website “Jihad Recollections” provides articles on Remote Control Detonation, Training with Handgun”. There are other websites which also provide comprehensive information for executing attacks, information on weapons which provide implementable information for attacks is extremely problematic.

The Jihadist websites contains abundance of military and tactical training books. Thus Internet acts as a library or classroom for jihad as a virtual training forum.

Use of Social networking sites

One of the most interesting new trends is the increasing use of social media by extremists and terrorist networks. The Jihadist exploits the extensive reach of social-networking sites and easily circulates their propaganda among its subscribers.

Social-networking platforms have lower technical barriers to entry and have the added bonus of reaching much wider constituencies than a dedicated website. There are also examples of networks using social media to aid their operations; for example, it is thought that the gang who perpetrated the 2008 attack in Mumbai were able to follow the movements of the police and security forces via eye witness Twitter updates.

Dead Drops and Steganography

An extremely creative way devised by terrorists of using the Internet is of dead drops. Dead drops are traditionally associated with exchange of information without the two actually ever having meet. This way there is never any evidence of there being any conspiracy. In this it creates an email account and the information is saved in an email draft without being sent, later the other participant is given the adequate account details and accesses the draft.

Another way in which terrorist use the Internet is one which is even more veiled and concealed below the layers. This way is of steganography through which information is hidden in different media like pornographic image or the chat room content so it is not visible to other apart from the intended recipient.

Measures for countering use of Internet for terrorist activities

Measures that governments and law enforcement agencies can adopt to counter terrorists’ use of the Internet are:

  • Removing content from the web.
  • Filtering – restricting users’ access and controlling the exchange of information.
  • Hiding – manipulating search engine results, so that undesirable content becomes more difficult to find.
  • A hard strategy of zero tolerance – taking legal actions.
  • A softer strategy of encouraging internet end users to directly challenge the extremist narrative and report offensive or illegal material.
  • An intelligence-led strategy of monitoring leading to targeting, investigation, disruption and arrest.

Another important area of debate in relation to the response to terrorists’ use of the Internet relates to the development and spread of “counter-narratives” online.

Counter-narratives: Directly or indirectly challenge extremist narratives either through ideology, logic, fact or humour.

A number of suggestions have been made about potential projects and activities in relation to counter-narratives:

  • Increased government support for the dissemination & translation of messages by repentant former radicals.
  • Search engine optimisation- by bringing counter-narratives to the top of search engine results.
  • Development of one-stop-shop or repository for counter-narratives; by building up a library of texts and other material rebutting extremists’ views, victims’ statements promoting alternatives and exposés of false statements.
  • Use of the virtual worlds.
  • Building of capacity – with a range of community and civilian individuals and groups, through technical support, training, and networking.
  • Database developing for the victims of terrorism.
  • The deployment of experienced individuals to counter arguments made on both specialist jihadist forums such as Facebook and YouTube.

Global approach

The UN Taskforce Inventory of Practices report outlines emerging projects and practices of UN member states in relation to efforts to counter the use of the Internet by terrorists. Some of the member states action taken can be seen below.

  • The UK has developed Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit which provides citizens with an easy to use interface for reporting content which is extremist or illegal, and the unit where appropriate works to get the content removed.
  • Several seminars has been organized by Nigeria on combating terrorism through the Internet. It also included the organization of capacity building and training/workshops on law enforcement and digital technologies for all agencies involved in countering radicalization, as well as the initiation of online projects aimed at undermining the capacity of violent extremists to propagate violent ideologies through the Internet.
  • A new code of conduct for ‘Notice and Take Down’ has produced by the Dutch government with the internet sector.
  • Singapore government have encouraged a group of volunteer religious scholars and teachers to launch a website which carries arguments that rebut violent extremist teachings and beliefs.
  • The European Commission has launched the ‘Clean IT’ programme to exchange and promote best practice among EU members’ states.
  • The United Arab Emirates has subjected all media forms to monitoring, and is using them, including TV channels, to teach the “right Islam” and rebut distorted violent ideology.

India’s response to radicalization

  • In 2000, India brought Information Technology Act, its initial law on information technology mainly regulate the use of the Internet. Section 69 of IT Act deals with interception, monitoring and decryption of information and allows for the controller to direct any agency of the Government to intercept any information transmitted through any computer resource if he feels that it is expedient to do so in the interest of the sovereignty of the state.
  • The Indo-US Cyber Security Forum (IUSCSF) was set up in 2001 with an aim towards protecting all the critical & important information within an economy which is knowledge based.
  • In 2003, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) was established with an aim towards enhancing the security of India’s communications. It should be noted that this is the body which deals with request of removing website.
  • The Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 was passed to allow for the blocking of the websites which had terrorist content.
  • In 2011, the Government introduced rules under the IT Act that would compel companies to remove objectionable content within 36 hours of receiving an official notice and oblige cybercafé to install surveillance cameras and submit records of their user’s online activity to the government.
  • In 2013, the Government started looking at making it mandatory for the decryption of VOIP communication like those through Skype so that the lack of encryption no longer remains a hurdle for Indian security for monitoring terrorist communications over Skype.

National cyber Security Policy 2013

The National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 was released by the Government with a vision towards building a secure cyberspace for business, the Government and citizens. The broad objective of this policy also includes strengthening the regulatory framework. As part of the proposed strategies, the policy dwells on dealing with cyber security challenges which arise from technical development like social media.

The policy also aims towards creating a framework which can generate the adequate situational scenario of existing and potential cyber security threats and thus allow for proactive and preventive measures.

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