Big Tech Firms are "In Denial" Over Extremist Users, Says New GCHQ Boss

By Gerald Lynch on at

Major US technology companies are "in denial" as to how their services are being used by extremist groups, says Robert Hannigan, the new head of UK intelligence agency GCHQ. Calling out Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp by name, Hannigan has requested that tech companies be more cooperative in sharing user information, stating that "privacy has never been an absolute right."

"However much they may dislike it, [US technology companies] have become the command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us," Hannigan wrote in the Financial Times.

"The challenge to governments and their intelligence agencies is huge - and it can only be met with greater co-operation from technology companies.

"GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web."

Hannigan points out that ISIS members hijacked popular hashtags (including those related to the World Cup and Ebola outbreak) to promote its cause and intimidate opponents, and claimed that the videos ISIS posts of its armoury "have a conscious online gaming quality". Its influence over a generation brought up on the internet and video games is potentially great, he argues.

Hannigan took the top job at GCHQ back at the end of October, but clearly wants more open relationships with the tech giants. It's a tough position for the likes of Twitter to be in -- Hannigan claims that ISIS used Twitter to send 40,000 tweets a day when it advanced on Mosul, doing so without triggering any spam control methods from the network. Yet Twitter would undermine the confidence of its users were it to seem too willing to share users' private details with security agencies.[Financial Times]