GCHQ Chief Says Social Media Should Help Intelligence Agencies

The new chief of GCHQ has come under fire for remarks made in the Financial Times, stating that social media aids terrorist groups and tech companies need to work more with intelligence officials.


Robert Hannigan, left. Photo: Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Robert Hannigan said that social media sites have a duty to ensure that their platforms are not being misused by devious entities and this could mean collaborating with authorities, Sky News reports.

“However much they [social media companies] may dislike it, they have become the command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us,” said Hannigan, adding that GCHQ and colleagues at MI5 and SIS need the support of tech giants.

Islamic state militants have been using social media to push their violent message as well as posting beheading videos of US and UK journalists and aid workers, drawing attention to how social media platforms can be manipulated for terrorist activity.

“It is incredibly difficult for them [agencies] and the police and indeed on the big Internet service providers to actually get a handle on just how much propaganda, how much material is being produced and shared by Islamic State and other terrorist groups on these platforms.”

“What we’ve seen with Islamic State and indeed every other terrorist group is quite a sophisticated way of avoiding censorship,” he adds, explaining how the group creates and deletes hundreds of accounts to avoid detection.

Hannigan also pulls no punches in demanding greater powers for organizations like his, adding that the Snowden leaks could aid terrorists too.

Since the acts of Edward Snowden, government forces and tech companies have been in a fierce push and pull over access to data and snooping.

“Robert Hannigan’s comments are divisive and offensive. If tech companies are becoming more resistant to GCHQ’s demands for data, it is because they realise that their customers’ trust has been undermined by the Snowden revelations,” says Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Groups. “It should be down to judges, not GCHQ nor tech companies, to decide when our personal data is handed over to the intelligence services.”

Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties and privacy group, has also refuted Hannigan’s claims that tech and social media companies do not do enough to kerb dangerous propaganda.

“The Government and agencies have consistently failed to provide evidence that internet companies are being actively obstructive,” says Emma Carr director of Big Brother Watch.

“These companies have consistently proved through their own transparency reports that they help the intelligence agencies when it is appropriate for them to do so, which is in the vast majority of cases.”

“If Hannigan wants a ‘mature debate’ about privacy, he should start by addressing GCHQ’s apparent habit of gathering the entire British population’s data rather than targeting their activities towards criminals,” added Killock.