White House Briefing Document for Jan. 12 Counterterrorism Summit With Tech Leaders
Jan. 20 2016 — 3:02p.m.
Problem #1: How can we make it harder for terrorists to leverage the internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence? Background: Terrorist groups are exploiting the internet to spread messages of violence. These groups use the internet to recruit those sympathetic to their cause, radicalize those not yet drawn to violent extremism, and inspire terrorist attacks, both here as well as abroad. ISIL, in particular, has proven adept at exploiting the internet’s ability to carry its message worldwide, combining slick production of magazines and videos with well-coordinated social media campaigns and direct, targeted outreach to those vulnerable to radicalization to violence. The widespread availability of violent and hateful content online makes it easy for an individual to engage with relevant material, find like-minded individuals with whom to interact, and move along the radicalization spectrum toward violence. Key Questions: • Should we explore ways to more quickly and comprehensively identify terrorist content online so that online service providers can remove it if it violates their terms of service? Some governments have undertaken efforts to flag terrorist content online or other terms of service violations for service providers for removal. How effective have these efforts been, since content is easily reconstituted? Is there value in creating something similar here, respecting U.S. First Amendment commitments to human rights such as freedom of expression that does not violate U.S. law, in which a governmental or non-governmental entity could rapidly raise awareness for relevant private sector companies about material that appears to provide support for terrorist activities that may violate their terms of service or otherwise be considered for companies’ voluntary suspension or removal? • To facilitate removing terrorist content that violates terms of service, are there other areas where online providers have used technology to identify harmful content and remove it? We recognize that identifying terrorist content that violates terms of service is far more difficult than identifying images of child pornography, but is there a way to use technology to quickly identify terrorist content? For example, are there technologies used for the prevention of spam that could be useful? Or something like Facebook’s suicide process flow? If this technology were clearly independent from government involvement, would that increase its viability? • Is the right approach to confronting online radicalization to violence the presentation of alternative content, such as Google’s and others’ use of targeted advertising grants, or other means? How do we improve alternative content, in particular by credible, nongovernment, voices? Or should the focus be on reporting violent extremist content that meets appropriate U.S. legal and other thresholds and rely on companies to remove voluntarily other objectionable content that violates their terms of service? • Is there information that the government—or non-government sources—could provide or actions the government could take that would make private action easier?
Problem #2: How can we help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL? Background: ISIL is adept at generating and amplifying content and using this propaganda to expand its ranks and encourage global attacks. ISIL has strategically developed its messaging and brand based on classic charismatic themes of strength and warmth—i.e., that it is a potent group of true believers effectively fighting the illegitimate powers of the world and that joining their ranks brings a sense of camaraderie and belonging that may be missing in the home environments of recruits. Indeed, a sampling of ISIL’s online media shows a full range of content under these themes: grotesque execution of ISIL’s enemies, conventional military victories, the supposedly utopian life inside the ISIL-led caliphate, images of friendship and brotherhood among ISIL followers, ideological tomes against the West. As has been widely noted, ISIL also brings a production quality to its content and a strategic approach to its online propagation efforts that has not previously been seen from other terrorist groups. The United States recognizes the need to empower credible non-governmental voices that would speak out against ISIL and terrorism more broadly both overseas and at home. However, there is a shortage of compelling credible alternative content; and this content is often not as effectively produced or distributed as pro-ISIL content and lacks the sensational quality that can capture the media’s attention. Content creation is made difficult by ISIL’s brutal rule and near total control of communications infrastructure in its territory in Iraq and Syria, which can make it dangerous for citizens to speak out or provide video or images. Further, many of the leading and credible voices that might counter ISIL lack the content-generation and social media prowess that would be required to counter ISIL online. There is also a need for more credible positive messaging and content that provides alternatives to young people concerned about many of the grievances ISIL highlights. In parallel with ongoing U.S. Government efforts, we invite the private sector to consider ways to increase the availability alternative content. Beyond the tech sector, we have heard from other private sector actors, including advertising executives, who are interested in helping develop and amplify compelling counter-ISIL content; and we hope there are opportunities to bring together the best in tech, media, and marketing to work with credible non-government voices to address this shared challenge. Key Questions: • How would you approach increasing the availability of alternative content in areas of the world where ISIL content dominates? Are there products that would be effective in getting more content from these territories without huge risk? What types of strategies have you pursued to help local communities and organizations develop content in other areas of the world where the communities face challenges in creating content and in having their voices heard? • Besides content, how can we improve the effectiveness of credible voices in reaching the most people with the most targeted messages across the social media channels?
• Is there a way to jump-start the education of content creators? Are there proven techniques to amplify those types of voices? Could advertising or marketing techniques play a role? How could we ensure that content creators have access to the best technology and approaches to ensure that people on their way to radicalization to violence get to engage with some of this alternative content? Is there a direct role that companies could play in amplifying alternative voices? • How might we bring together on a regularized or standing basis interested parties such as groups in the private sector—including Silicon Valley but also others with relevant expertise, such as advertising and marketing professionals—and civil society, social scientists, and community groups who are focused on developing and amplifying effective content? Would such a group be useful and productive? Are we the right conveners?
Problem #3: In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence? Background: ISIL recruits online using an integrated strategy that seeks to move curious bystanders or disaffected individuals to sympathizers to supporters and finally to foreign fighters or homegrown violent extremists. There is no single path to radicalization. And this process can take place over months or in as little as a few weeks. Individual recruits, often already aggrieved for a range of reasons, may start by primarily reading about ISIL in major press outlets and learning more about the group’s ideology and vision, its purported strength in combating the coalition attacking it, the supposedly utopian life under ISIL rule, and the claimed deep feelings of kinship and affection among ISIL members. They may eventually become part of ISIL’s online communities, and ultimately may form a personal connection with a member of ISIL, who engages the would-be recruit by providing more information on life in the Islamic State and addressing concerns that the recruit may have—before exhorting the recruit to action. A number of organizations in the government, as well as some in private industry and academia, have researched techniques to detect and measure radicalization. Some have suggested that a measurement of level of radicalization could provide insights to measure levels of radicalization to violence. While it is unclear whether radicalization is measureable or could be measured, such a measurement would be extremely useful to help shape and target counter-messaging and efforts focused on countering violent extremism. This type of approach requires consideration of First Amendment protections and privacy and civil liberties concerns, additional front-end research on specific drivers of radicalization and themes among violent extremist populations, careful design of intervention tools, dedicated technical expertise, and the ability to iteratively improve the tools based on experience in deploying them. Industry certainly has a lot of expertise in measuring resonance in order to see how effective and broad a messaging campaign reaches an audience. A partnership to determine if resonance can be measured for both ISIL and counter-ISIL content in order to guide and improve and more effectively counter the ISIL narrative could be beneficial. Key Questions: • Does a measure of radicalization make sense? How much of its ideal component material would be public data versus private data only available to the specific platform? • What experiences have you had in understanding media consumption patterns and changing those patterns? How would you respond to de-escalating radicalization to violence given the technological tools you know about? For a given user, what are the public and private ways of trying to understand the type of alternative content that would resonate? • How could we understand better the types of themes and content that ISIL uses and judging their effectiveness? How much of that would involve public versus private data?
• How might technology empower an effective one-on-one intervention program that would serve as an effective counter to ISIL’s one-on-one recruitment efforts? Are there analogues to campaigns you have undertaken for other purposes? • Are there any analogues in efforts to automatically connect mental health professionals, educators, and religious leaders through advertisements, search results, etc.? What can be learned from non-government efforts to use social media to combat human trafficking, child predators, and cyber bullying?
Problem #4: How can we make it harder for terrorists to use technology to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks? Background: In addition to using technology to recruit and radicalize, terrorists are using technology to mobilize supporters to attack and to plan, move money for, coordinate, and execute attacks. The roles played by terrorist leaders and attack plotters in this activity vary, ranging from providing general direction to small groups to undertake attacks of their own design wherever they are located to offering repeated and specific guidance on how to execute attacks. To avoid law enforcement and the intelligence community detecting their activities, terrorists are using encrypted forms of communications at various stages of attack plotting and execution. We expect terrorists will continue to use technology to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, including using encrypted communications where law enforcement cannot obtain the content of the communication even with court authorization. We would be happy to provide classified briefings in which we could share additional information. Key Questions: • We are interested in exploring all options with you for how to deal with the growing threat of terrorists and other malicious actors using technology, including encrypted technology, to threaten our national security and public safety. We understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address this problem and that each of you has very different products and services that work in different ways. Are there high-level principles we could agree on for working through these problems together? And are there technologies that could make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize? Or easier for us to find them when they do? What are the potential downsides or unintended consequences we should be aware of when considering these kinds of technology-based approaches to counter terrorism? For example, terrorist groups often prepare to capitalize on their attacks by ensuring that they can actively spread messages that take credit for those attacks and use them to enlist recruits and raise funding; such preparatory efforts may be associated with indicators that could be discerned and used as early warning of a likely attack. • Are there types of unencrypted data that could be useful to uncovering terrorists that we are not making good use of? Are there better ways for the government to understand the implications of leading-edge technology and new product changes and how they might affect and provide opportunities for our investigations? • With respect to unencrypted data, how do we improve collaboration when legal process is provided? For example, is there information that you need but are not getting from us to ensure that we receive the full and appropriate scope of information called for by court orders? Are there things we can do to assist with speeding up the response time to court order requests? Are there ways that we can work together to ensure that you have a mechanism or process in place to provide metadata in the most timely and efficient manner in response to a court order? A mechanism or process to preserve critical data? What information do you need from us to ensure that the information that we request is
provided to us in a usable format? Are there technological approaches that can be of assistance here? • Our foreign counterparts share common concerns regarding terrorists’ use of technology to incite, mobilize, and facilitate terrorist activity as well as to plan attacks and evade law enforcement. We understand that they are seeking ways to ensure that they can obtain what they see as necessary information in a timely manner. Have you had any interaction with foreign law enforcement on these matters, and how would you characterize these interactions? Are there ways we can collaborate in this area? Would it be useful to convene a similar meeting to the one we are having today with a selected group of Interior Ministers from foreign countries? • We are interested in exploring all options to better identify terrorist networks, or indications of impending plots. What experiences or technologies have you explored in other contexts that might be useful? What types of analysis could we explore using online activity of terrorists and terrorist networks? • Are there ways to glean from changes in patterns of use of these platforms involvement in preparations for violence? • While an attack is underway, terrorists make use of the web and other digital communications platforms to call attention to their violence. Are there spikes or patterns in use of technology that might be used to disrupt attacks as they unfold as well as to prevent second-wave plotting? Technologists have done great work, in particular, supporting victims of natural disasters. Is there anything that can be learned from those focused efforts here? Should there be a focused effort on terrorist attacks while in progress and associated communications so that we have a better opportunity to prevent second-wave attacks?