Asia-Pacific Nations Look to Tech Firms to Help Fight Terrorism

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
181106_ID_terror_1000.jpg Members of joint Indonesian police and military special forces take part in an anti-terrorism drill in Jakarta, July 25, 2018.

Ministers from nine Asia-Pacific countries emphasized the importance Tuesday of working with the private sector to fight online terrorist propaganda, as a Twitter executive told the group the social media platform had suspended 1.2 million accounts worldwide for promoting terrorism.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who co-hosted the sub-regional meeting on counter-terrorism in Jakarta along with Indonesia’s security ministry, praised Twitter for attending the meeting in what he said was a first. Tech companies supplying social media and messaging platforms needed to be more responsible, according to Dutton.

At a similar meeting in Australia in August “it was very hard even to get the companies to turn up to be a part of the conversation and that was incredibly disappointing, so it was good to see Twitter here today,” Dutton said.

“We don’t accept crime on our streets, we shouldn’t accept that online either,” he told a news conference after the meeting.

Ministers and senior officials from Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand attended the meeting in the Indonesian capital, after which they issued a joint statement.

“[T]he terrorist threat in the region continues to evolve, particularly in relation to the misuse of technology and the internet by terrorists to recruit, communicate and spread violent extremism,” their statement said.

“Ministers recognised the importance of harnessing opportunities to strengthen cooperation between government and the private sector to combat the use of social media platforms by terrorist networks.”

Wiranto, the Indonesian security minister, said the meeting discussed cooperation between governments and technology companies in the fight against terrorist activities and online propaganda.

A working group consisting of senior officials from the nine countries would formulate an action plan and monitor joint activities, Wiranto said.

Agung Yudha, Twitter’s head of public policy in Indonesia, told the meeting that the company had suspended more than 1 million accounts across the globe for promoting terrorism.

Agung was referring to a Twitter announcement in April that it had suspended 1,210,357 accounts between Aug. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017 for policy violations “related to the promotion of terrorism.”

During the period of July 1 through Dec. 31 of last year alone, as many as 274,460 accounts were suspended for promoting terrorism, according to Twitter.

Dutton described the figures cited by the social media giant as “incredible.”

“It’s a significant figure. But it may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the quantum that we need to deal with, not only today but as the use of social media increases as years go by,” the Australian minister said.

“Those companies also have a specific obligation to engage with and assist law enforcement organizations, particularly where encrypted messages or services are being used to carry messages conveyed and used in the planning of a terrorist attack or other serious criminal enterprise,” he added.

Legal umbrella to counter terror

Militants use social media networks and messaging services not only to promote terrorism but also to teach militants how to make bombs, according to Wiranto.

He said the working group would look at how legislation in each of the nine countries could be used as an umbrella for countering terrorism-related online activities, since each country had different rules about blocking social media accounts.

“But we all share the same commitment, that we will not tolerate the use of social media to commit crime, especially terrorism,” he said.

Indonesia has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks in recent years, including suicide bombings on churches and the police headquarters in the city of Surabaya in May.

Those bombings killed 14 bystanders, as well as 10 members of two families who were blamed for carrying out the attacks.

Ministers and officials from the nine countries first met last year in Manado, the capital of Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province, after the siege of Marawi in the southern Philippines by militants linked to Islamic State.

The five-month siege, which ended in October 2017, left 1,200 people dead, most of them militants.

“We agree to exchange information and share experience so that participating countries share the same understanding of the anatomy of foreign terrorist fighters and their networks,” Wiranto said.

“No country can fight terrorism alone,” he said.


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