Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Guardian: Counter-terrorism strategy driven by 'cyberjihad'

The Guardian reports today on the Home Secretary's latest announcement regarding the UK's approach to counter-terrorism:
Home secretary Theresa May promises new generation of technology to tackle extremists' rapidly changing strategies
A new generation of scanning technology, watchlists, no-fly lists and databases to track terrorist travel was promised by the home secretary, Theresa May, on Tuesday as she published the government's new counter-terrorism strategy.

She indicated that the Home Office will no longer rely on seeking "difficult to negotiate" general agreements of no torture and no ill-treatment with countries such as Algeria in order to deport foreign terror suspects, but instead will try to strike individual deals in each case.

The updated strategy will try to improve the chances of prosecuting terror suspects arrested in Britain by bringing into force powers to allow suspects to be questioned after they are charged.

The home secretary said this would allow police and prosecutors to build a more robust case against suspects where further substantial evidence emerged after the 14-day limit within which those arrested for terrorism must be charged or released.

A fresh effort is to be made by a Privy Council group to find a practical way of enabling intercepted evidence from calls and emails to be put before a jury without compromising intelligence sources.

May said a combination of factors – including the Arab spring and the death of Osama bin Laden – has reduced the immediate threat from al-Qaida. But she said there remained a serious threat to Britain from associated groups based in countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria and from "lone wolves" backed by substantial computer attacks – known as "cyberjihad".

The new strategy identified the rapidly changing technological environment in which terrorism is operating. May, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, said online technology, such as Google Earth and Street View, was increasingly being used for attack planning.

"Ahead of its attempted aviation attacks, al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula used commercial systems to allow air mail to be tracked in real time – we can speculate that this was to detonate a device over a particular city, to maximise casualties, or perhaps over a particular country, to maximise the political fallout," she said of the Christmas day Detroit-bound airline attack in 2009.

She added that "peer to peer networks" were being used to distribute files and information rapidly and securely. Cloud computing, which allows material to be encrypted and configured to work with mobile devices, offered a new means of distributing information and left little or no trace of the data.

The new document confirms the government's intention to bring forward new legislation to regulate the ability of the security services and the police to access such communications data and track the use of mobiles, email and other such data transfers.

But the home secretary confirmed in a Home Office briefing that the legislation to introduce what has been called the "interception modernisation programme" would not be introduced this year. She said the parliamentary timetable was already crowded. This meant that this particular ambition of the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism, based in the Home Office, will remain a medium-term rather than an immediate objective.

May said: "We will also respond to recent threats to aviation security with new scanning technology, new watchlisting, new non-fly procedures and a new push, which I am leading within Europe, to use passenger name records to track terrorist travel."

The home secretary has persuaded EU home affairs ministers to back her over Europe-wide plans to track and store the travel details, including credit cards, of all passengers on "high-risk" routes within and to and from Europe.

She has been involved in similar agreements to track and store for up to 15 years such personal travel details of those flying to and from the US and Australia. The civil liberties implications have provoked strong protests from the European parliament.

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