Civil liberties groups want involvement in U.S. online extremism talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2016 12:33 PM

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A dozen civil liberties and digital freedom groups asked the White House on Tuesday to include them in ongoing discussions about how best to combat the spread of violent propaganda online by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

The Obama administration has convened two summits in the past two months - one in San Jose, Calif., and one in Washington, D.C. - with social media companies and other groups to discuss how to more effectively reduce the potency of online extremism and develop strategic counter-messaging campaigns.

“When the government sits down with private sector entities to discuss the future of free expression and privacy online, civil liberties and human rights advocates need to be at the table, too,” read a letter sent to senior White House officials, including U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Signatories included the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Amnesty International and Access Now.

Several social media firms, including Twitter, have ramped up their efforts to take down jihadist content in recent months. Facebook has also worked with the government to help fund and promote counter-messaging campaigns developed by university students and others.

While the civil liberties groups said they were encouraged by media reports of the government’s careful consideration of how best to enlist cooperation from Internet firms, they also warned that the conversations could “lead to voluntary surveillance or censorship measures that would be illegal or unconstitutional for the government to undertake itself.”

The White House National Security Council declined to respond to the groups' letter specifically. A senior administration official said the White House remains committed “to working with a broad range of partners to develop community-oriented approaches to counter hateful extremist ideologies that radicalize, recruit or incite to violence."

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Dan Grebler)