The Met Police Won't Reveal In Depth Statistics About Online Extremist Takedowns

By Tom Pritchard on at

The government makes a big deal about tackling extremist content online, and with good reason. Accusations have levelled at internet companies for failing to deal with extremist content on their platforms, despite the companies themselves insisting they're very good at taking it down. Normally people would use stats to check, but London's Metropolitan Police have refused to release anything of note.

Following a freedom of information request from the Open Rights Group, the Met only reiterated the previous statement that "Since 2010, 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed by social media providers, following referrals from the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit." Unfortunately they refused to disclose any more in depth stats because "disclosure of the requested information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime".

Naturally the Open Rights Group weren't best pleased, with Executive Director Jim Killock saying:

“This is ridiculous. There will be plenty of statistics, where we know that the CTIRU work with certain platforms or must review their own work. This would include error rates, decline rates, numbers of takedown by platform. Other statistics would include media performance. They may try to calculate crime prevention or the number of views of content they have prevented.
To claim that making any of these available would constitute a threat to national security or detection of crime is preposterous. Worse, we are about to debate the Digital Charter where Parliament and the public will be expected to accept harsher penalties for platforms who don’t immediately remove material like this. If we are going to have a sensible debate about more censorship powers, then we need to know how current police operations are working.”
He has a point. If there are harsher penalties being proposed how are we supposed to be able to compare stats? The government might release reports, but that's no good if the raw statistics aren't available to browse. Plus it might take the government years to do that sort of thing, because government takes an age to get anything done.
There are exemptions to the data protection act, however, and prejudice to law enforcement is one of them. It feels as though the Met is entitled to refuse the request here, but that doesn't mean we have to be happy about it. The full FOI is available here.

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