Monday, January 15, 2018

Extremism Tax

UK Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace, has said that Britain may impose new taxes on tech giants like Google and Facebook unless they do more to combat online extremism by taking down any material aimed at radicalizing people or helping them to prepare terror attacks.

Lack Of Co-operation

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Security Secretary Wallace is reported as saying that tech giants appear to have been “less than co-operative”, and are placing too much of the responsibility and cost for tackling extremist material and influence on the UK government (i.e. the taxpayer).

Mr Wallace is reported as saying that although the tech firms appear to be happy to sell people’s data, they seem less happy to give that data to the UK government, thereby forcing it to spend large amounts of money on de-radicalisation programs, surveillance and other counter-terrorism measures.

Tax Threat

Mr Wallace is reported as saying in his interview with the Sunday Times that the government was prepared to look at things like tax as a way of incentivising or compensating the tech giants for their “inaction”.

Vulnerable

Mr Wallace made the point that the UK is “more vulnerable than at any point in the last 100 years.” He highlighted how social media and encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp may be making things easier for attackers, and how taking down online extremist more quickly than is currently happening could save the millions of pounds that are being spent on de-radicalising people (who have been radicalised) rather than preventing radicalisation in the first place.

Echoes of Amber Rudd

Mr Wallace’s reported comments appear to echo many of those of interior minister Amber Rudd, who, just weeks after the second bridge attack, headed a very public campaign to stop the complete end-to-end encryption model used by some social media platforms, and allow ‘back doors’ to be built-in to such systems to allow the government to access them in the name of intercepting communications by extremists / terrorists. Critics have pointed out that a building in back doors would make the platforms vulnerable to hackers.

Stereotyping

Mr Wallace’s reported comments also included a description of tech company staff that appeared to stereotype them as people who “sit on beanbags in T-shirts”. He was quick to create a contrast between this more passive perceived public image, and his perceived reality that the tech giants are in fact “ruthless profiteers” who will “sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This appears to be another effort by the government to put pressure on the tech giants through negative publicity, and this time through threats of new taxation, to highlight what the government sees as their responsibility in playing a role in reducing the terror threat from extremists. Businesses and individuals are obviously likely to be unanimous in their wish for increased national security, the reduction of a terror threat, and in closing avenues which lead to radicalisation and recruitment for extremist / terror activities.

There are, however, other influences and points of view at play here, including the powerful commercial interests and profits of the ‘tech giants’, the need to be seen to resist any forms of censorship and outside interference, and the need to be seen to protect users’ privacy and trust, diplomatic and trade interests and relationships e.g. with the U.S where the tech giants are mainly based, personal data and security implications (with stopping end-to-end encryption), and the influence of freedom and rights campaigners.

The comments of Mr Wallace are likely to be followed by many more from the government in the near future as they attempt to exert some influence over many wealthy, overseas-based but very popular tech companies that play such an important part in the daily lives of many UK citizens.

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