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What Service Providers Must Do To Fight Cyber-Terrorism

21/01/2016 7:34 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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This is an era where cyber-terrorism and cyber-extremism are increasingly going to be significant factors in our day-to-day lives. Whether we like it or not, social media platforms have been infiltrated with by people with dark agendas, evidenced by the growing phenomenon of cyber-radicalisation, recruitment and the dissemination of terrorist content.

The rationale behind these emerging trends is crystal clear. Cyber terrorists are increasingly focusing on those areas of the Internet where the majority of people are converging -- social media platforms are clearly on top of the list.

In this scenario, the roles of intermediaries and services providers become critical. Recently, it was reported that Twitter has been sued by Tamara Fields, a Florida woman whose husband Lloyd died in a terrorist attack. Fields has accused Twitter of having knowingly allowed ISIS to spread propaganda, raise money and attract recruits. Twitter, of course, denies all charges.

Cyber terrorists are increasingly focusing on those areas of the Internet where the majority of people are converging -- social media platforms are clearly on top of the list.

While we await the decision of that case, what we need to address is that intermediaries and service providers increasingly have a duty to ensure that their networks are free from dissemination of cyber-terrorist content.

Gone are the days where service providers were merely pipe providers. Today, service providers and intermediaries have metamorphosed into huge data repositories. I am of the view that they need to be designated some basic duties in the context of cyber-terrorist content on their networks. Here I am listing six important legal duties for intermediaries and service providers, which I believe are essential in today's times:-

a) Service providers have a duty to ensure that their networks do not get misused for the purposes of terrorists and extremists.

b) The service providers have a duty to exercise due diligence while discharging their duties under the law.

c) The service providers further have a duty to ensure the security and stability of their networks and further ensure that these networks are not prejudicially impacted by cyber-terrorist content or propaganda.

d) Service providers also have a duty to protect the members/users on their platforms from exposure to undesirable cyber-terrorist and cyber-extremist data and content.

e) There is a duty for service providers to be sensitive of the sensibilities of users on their networks.

f) Intermediaries have a larger societal responsibility towards ensuring that their networks do not get misused as tools for dissemination and propagation of terrorist content and information.

It needs to be noted that most of these duties are already known to stakeholders, though they are often not enforced. For this, they need to be duly documented in cyber-legal frameworks to ensure that service providers mandatorily comply.

Intermediaries and service providers can look the other way while their networks are being misused for disseminating, propagating or spreading cyber-terrorist content.

Of course, service providers may not necessarily welcome the imposition of any such duties. In the context of the United States, service providers take the plea of exemption from liability as service providers in their capacity under US laws. The service providers often also argue that the responsibility of fighting cyber-terrorism is purely that of the government. They contend governments cannot outsource their statutory and sovereign functions to be performed by service providers. While that argument may have some merits, it still does not mean that intermediaries and service providers can look the other way while their networks are being misused for disseminating, propagating or spreading cyber-terrorist content.

The entire issue pertaining to intermediary liability needs to be reconfigured to fit with current realities.

The entire issue pertaining to intermediary liability needs to be reconfigured to fit with current realities. A new chapter needs to be written in the evolving jurisprudence on intermediary liability. Further, countries in different parts of the world increasingly need to focus on documenting the aforesaid duties of care for intermediaries and service providers.

We need to quickly realise that cyber-terrorism, cyber-extremism and cyber-radicalisation are three sisters which impact not just the online world but the safety of societies and nations at large. It's time that service providers clue into this fact and play a more active role in preventing the spread of pernicious propaganda and activities on their platforms.

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