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Administration, Silicon Valley Bigs Meet to Strategize on ISIS

Obama administration officials last week met with senior executives from several leading Silicon Valley firms in a summit on how to combat the proliferation of terrorist communications on social media networks.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, represented the DoJ.

The meeting was part of a larger strategy the administration announced last week, geared toward cracking down on violent extremism, both from overseas organizations like ISIS and from domestic sources.

“Today’s developments reflect President Obama’s commitment to take every possible action to confront and interdict terrorist activities wherever they occur, including online.” said National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price.

New Task Force

As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice announced the launch of the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, which will integrate and harmonize those efforts in the U.S., according to the NSC.

The CVE Task Force is designed to combine various elements from law enforcement, homeland security, and other agencies within the executive branch. It’s expected to coordinate its efforts with those of local communities, and to identify potential threats and counter messages put forth by violent extremist groups, according to the DoJ.

The effort is designed to “discourage violent extremism and undercut terrorist narratives,” as well as “build relationships and promote trust” with various communities across the country, said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

Global Engagement Center

As part of the overall effort, the State Department announced the establishment of the Global Engagement Center. It will tap international government and nongovernmental agencies to counter messages of hate and violence, shifting away from direct messaging from the U.S.

The administration intends to revamp its social outreach strategy, which largely has failed to anticipate sophisticated social media campaigns launched by ISIS and other groups to recruit militants and inspire violent attacks overseas.

The State Department named Michael D. Lumpkin as the new director of the Global Engagement Center. Lumpkin had been assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict since 2013, a position confirmed by Senate vote.

“At this critical stage in the fight against Daesh — and in this global effort to counter violent extremism — the GEC will lead the effort to synchronize messaging to foreign audiences that will counter the destructive messages of violent extremist groups,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Tech Firms Step Up

“This meeting confirmed that we are united in our goal to keep terrorists and terror-promoting material off the Internet,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by company rep Samantha Spielman.

“We explained our policies and how we enforce them — Facebook does not tolerate terrorists or terror propaganda and we work aggressively to remove it as soon as we become aware of it,” the Facebook spokesperson continued. “This is an ever-evolving landscape, and we will continue to engage regularly with NGOs, industry partners, academics, and government officials on how to keep Facebook, and other Internet services, free of this material.”

Google and Dropbox also participated in the summit; however, they declined to comment on what was discussed.

Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly was scheduled to attend, as were executives of other tech companies, including Twitter.

Privacy Concerns Rage

The efforts to solicit the cooperation of Silicon Valley executives are fraught with controversy. Some proposed plans to combat terrorism could put technology companies in the position of policing their own customers on the Web, privacy and security experts have warned.

“Hopefully, government will work with social media companies to develop constructive educational strategies to combat terrorist messages,” Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at GWU’s Mercatus Center, told TechNewsWorld. That would be preferable to “attempting censoral efforts that could raise free speech issues and probably wouldn’t work in practice anyway.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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