Are France’s online counter-terrorism measures efficient?

Lockheed Martin employees are seen at work in November of 2009 in the company's NexGen Cyber Innovation & Technology Center, which monitors internet threats. (File photo: Reuters)

Recognizing the importance of the internet to terror groups, a recent French decree allows the government to block websites accused of promoting terrorism without seeking a court order.

In January, the government employed some 50 military experts who use fake identities to monitor jihadist activity on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Paris-based radio station Europe 1 reported.

The government also created a website after the Paris attacks in January that killed 17 people, which aims to provide information about radicalization and extremist propaganda.

Alain Rodier, a former intelligence officer and the director of research at the French Centre for Research on Intelligence (Cf2R), told Al Arabiya News: “Some measures are more efficient than others clearly, but all in all it’s a good start.

“Even if the antiterrorism website, for example, has been criticized by communication specialists for its very mediocre quality, it’s going in the right direction.”

Shortly after its launch, Stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr was poked fun at for warning people to be careful of those “who do not eat baguettes.”

Prevention

Swedish terrorism expert Ranstorp Magnus told Al Arabiya News that in order to fight cyber-terrorism, the French government “must remain vigilant” about what it is blocking, but also find a balance between repression and preventive measures.

“The websites they may close somewhere will end up popping up somewhere else,” Magnus said.

“So far all the measures have been repressive, but if you want to combat terrorism... preventative measures are also needed, and these measures have to be taken before jihadists go to places like Syria and Iraq, and after they come back.”

Cooperation

Magnus suggested that French authorities “develop a way to foster greater cooperation with Muslim civil society in specific zones where there’s a radical environment, so they can both take care of the radicalization problem.”

In France, some areas known as banlieues, or suburbs, have high numbers of French Muslims who face low incomes and high unemployment.

Some opt for the “radical rejection of France,” according to a report by leading French think-tank Institut Montaigne.

Rodier said the government “must collaborate with other European and international countries to combat online terror, as the internet is a powerful tool that helps terror groups to expand their actions and recruit militants in greater numbers from different countries.”

He added that France must keep its methods “confidential.”

Patryk Pawlak, a senior analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies, said a closer alliance between law-enforcement agencies and social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook could lead to better results in France’s battle against terrorism online.

“Unless you do this, there’s very little you can do,” Pawlak said. “Even if you identify [terrorism-related] content, [companies] provide the service, so they’re the ones that can take it down.”

 

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