UN weighs measures to prevent terrorists from exploiting the Internet, social media

NEW YORK, 18th December 2015 (WAM) --- Stressing the need for States to work with the private sector to devise ways to prevent terrorists from exploiting the Internet while respecting human rights, the top United Nations political official today said curtailing the influence of terrorists and violent extremist groups must not come at the expense of curbing legitimate political discourse on the Internet or social media.

"Today's topic brings us to the fine line between benevolent and malevolent: freedoms and human rights apply to anyone anywhere, but only as long as they do not call into question the enjoyment of these freedoms and human rights by others," Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told a special meeting of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee.

"It is precisely [the] exploitation by terrorists and violent extremists that can easily result in us restricting human rights and fundamental freedoms," he continued, acknowledging that while it is now "a given that ICT is part of the equation in our effort to achieve a more sustainable, equitable and connected world," it is this free flow of information that has led ISIL (Daesh) and other extremist groups to successfully use the Internet to broadcast their ideology and to recruit foreign terrorist fighters.

Indeed, ISIL, Mr. Feltman continued, has raised the exploitation of the Internet and social media to a new level, luring over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries to join the conflicts in Syria and Iraq or inciting individuals to commit terrorist acts in their home countries. Thus, local and regional conflicts have unprecedented global repercussions.

"We cannot allow the internet to be abused to undermine the foundations of our societies," he told the day-long event.

"How do we make our preventive and counter-measures more effective without calling into question the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms?" Mr. Feltman asked, and noted that the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is central to the answer: where rights and freedoms are jeopardised or granted selectively, the potential for grievances grows and can in turn provide fertile ground for recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups, ever more cost-effectively and far-reaching thanks to ICT.

Feltman announced that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will release, in the coming days, a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which will make strategic recommendations to address the drivers of violent extremism and to broaden our approach beyond ongoing, essential security-based counter-terrorism measures.

It will call for greater attention to strategic communications at all levels. It will put an emphasis on youth, focusing on the interface between youth and social media, putting young people at the centre of our efforts to address the misuse of the internet," Feltman added.