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Secret European project to battle online jihad

'Significant' international bid to block extremism

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The UK is collaborating with the German, Dutch and Czech governments on a secret research project on how to effectively block the distribution of Islamic extremist material online.

Officials across Europe are concerned that most jihadi websites are hosted outside the EU and so cannot be taken down from the internet. It's thought governments will explore technical measures such as filtering technolgies, as well as international cooperation on take-down notices issued to ISPs.

The European Commission has agreed to fund a project, entitled "Exploring the Islamist Extremist Web of Europe - Analysis and Preventive Approaches", which is led by the German interior ministry.

The research was alluded to in the Home Office's recently published counter-terror strategy, CONTEST 2, as "a significant EU project with Commission support". The European Commission refused to say how much funding it had awarded. "The details of the awarded grant are still subject to an agreement in writing which implies further scrutiny of the budget estimate submitted by Germany and its project partners," a spokeswoman said.

According to the Home Office, UK hosting providers have been cooperative in voluntarily removing extremist material. In CONTEST 2 however, officials appeared frustrated that the powers to enforce take-down, granted by Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006, were useless overseas. "The greater problem is that most of the material of concern is hosted on web servers overseas," they wrote. "Section 3 notices can be issued to ISPs outside the UK but cannot be enforced."

A Home Office spokeswoman declined to provide specific information on the EU research project. "Most of the many violent extremist websites are not hosted in this country," she said. "They are hosted overseas. Taking action against them depends on multilateral cooperation. We are working with the EU, UN and Europol to develop effective international collaboration."

A spokesman for the German interior ministry told The Register the aim of its research was to "enhance the effectiveness of our work, which is fundamentally important in terms of the internet which knows no national boundaries". He said researchers would be "analysing terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet and identifying preventative solutions".

The German spokesman also declined to provide specific details of the project. "Please understand that at this stage of the project we cannot provide you with any further information," he said.

"Following a series of ongoing meetings between the project partners, findings will be shared with all Member States as a basis for further discussion."

In February we reported how UK ISPs had not had significant contact from the Home Office on extremist material since Jacqui Smith said she wanted "to cut off the supply of those who want to look to violent extremism [online]".

In March, a UK study of internet radicalisation concluded efforts to restrict users' access to extremist material would be "crude, costly and counter-productive". ®

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