MI5 Chief Andrew Parker has called for social media companies to pass on intelligence about potential terrorism.
Parker told the BBC Today programme that companies such as Twitter and Facebook have a responsibility to act upon suspicious information, as the level of terrorism threat in Britain is “growing.”
Parker has 32 years’ experience with MI5 and believes that the current risk of terrorism is the highest it’s been in that time, adding that the MI5 have foiled six plots in the last 12 months.
The rise of terrorist groups like ISIS has coincided with technological advances of online platforms, with various high profile cases where terrorist groups have used WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook to radicalise, recruit and plot attacks.
Internet networking companies have come under fire for not passing on “essential information”, as would-be terrorists communicate with one another and even radicalise and recruit thousands of young people through the networks.
Mr Parker said: “Terrorists use social media. We all have smartphones in our pockets; the terrorists do the same. They are using secure apps and internet communication to try to broadcast their message and to direct terrorism amongst people who live here, who are prepared to listen.”
Last year, Facebook was criticised for not passing on essential information which could have prevented Lee Rigby’s murder. It was found that Facebook had previously shut down killer Michael Adebowale’s profile on the site because he had discussed terrorism, yet didn’t relay this information to authorities.
However, it has been argued that British and American spies would be able to snoop on people’s social media activity and that people have a right to privacy on social media messaging sites.
Mr Parker was quick to shun this idea, saying that MI5 was not interested in “browsing through the private lives” of the general public and it should work within a “transparent” legal framework.
The apps do claim to offer total privacy, with digital encryption so strong that it cannot be hacked even by secret services. These policies would therefore need to change if authorities such as MI5 were to gain access to the information.
Mr Parker has called for the Communications Data Bill to be updated to oblige UK internet service providers to keep data on their customers and make the information available to the authorities.
Mr Parker said there needed to be an “international agreement and arrangements whereby companies have a confident basis on which to co-operate with agencies like mine and with the police in order to protect society and their customers.”