End-to-end encryption on messaging apps is a “disaster” for counter-terrorism officials as it stops them finding extreme-right activity online, a new report warns.
Extreme right-wing terrorists’ “conspiracy theorist, anti-government outlook” means they are “often aware of what technical security measures they need to employ to avoid detection”, parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee says in its latest report.
As a result, they use encrypted platforms, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and ‘dark net’ websites to research and promote their ideas.
The findings of the report out today read: “The Head of Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP) was clear that ‘end-to-end encryption is a disaster’ and is having a detrimental effect on their ability to detect harmful material online.”
MI5 is therefore calling on the owners of apps that provide encrypted messaging to allow them “exceptional access” to suspects’ conversations.
Figures published by The Guardian last year revealed that 16 members of the armed forces had been referred to anti-terrorism programmes over a two-and-a-half-year period – the majority over far-right beliefs.
The report, entitled ‘Extreme Right-Wing Terrorism’, also warns that right-wing extremists are targeting members of the police and the armed forces.
It claims that current policies do not stop service men and women from being involved in extremist organisations – something it describes as “somewhat risky”.
“The fact that the armed forces do not provide clear direction to service personnel regarding membership of any organisation – let alone an extremist one – would appear to be something of an anomaly,” the report says.
“It could be argued that this is a somewhat risky approach, given the sensitive roles of many service personnel.”
MI5 situation ‘untenable’
Intelligence bosses also raised concerns about vetting of the police to ensure no one with an extremist background signs up.
It comes after Met Police officer Ben Hannam was jailed for more than four years for being part of the banned group National Action.
He worked as probationary officer for almost two years before a leaked database revealed his membership of extreme right-wing forums, resulting in his arrest.
The Met Police is currently under special measures following a series of failings in several areas.
MI5 took over responsibility for tackling extreme right-wing terrorism from Counter-Terrorism Police in 2020.
But in the summary of the report, it warns that it consists of a fifth of all counter-terror investigations and intelligence staff “cannot be expected to absorb” them “without any commensurate resources”.
It concludes by saying the “situation is untenable” and that “MI5 must be given additional funding… without other areas of its work suffering as a consequence”.