A European project designed to reduce terrorist use of the internet has concluded and apparently it was nothing more than a taxpayer funded waste of time.
CleanIT was launched two years ago, with generous European Commission funding. It held its final symposium in Brussels on Wednesday and Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar, who moderated the event, doesn't seem very impressed.
After plenty of bluster, it is still unclear how CleanIT plans to continue the project now that the funding is gone. The signs suggest that, perhaps, it shouldn't continue at all. Furthermore, whether or not the project's recommendations will ever be implemented is anyone's guess at this point, according to Farivar. He said only a handful of private sector representatives took part in the final symposium.
"Based on a show of hands, only six people belonged to that category, with no participants from a search engine or a social network," Farivar said. "There was one person who did work for a private, academic ISP".
But Klaasen, the Dutch terrorism expert in charge of the project, tried to downplay the lack of interest in the commercial sector. He said the organisers invited commercial sector representatives, but they failed to show up. Klaasen argued that they simply didn't have money to send their representatives, but Farivar pointed out that CleanIT had no qualms about spending more than $1,000 to bring a US journalist to the meeting.
Farivar wrote: "Nearly all of the panelists repeated trite slogans and accepted truths they seemed to be unable to articulate in practice. When I asked the panel how—in their understanding of the voluntary guidelines articulated in the final document—European ISPs would deal with an actual terrorism website, presently hosted in Hungary (an EU member state), no one had a real answer".
He pointed out that one British panelist even argued law enforcement would prefer to leave terrorist websites active for intelligence reasons. The project's recommendations are voluntary and one of the practices proposed is a "user-friendly flagging system" which calls for the creation of a "flag as terrorism" content button in browsers. Apparently it took CleanIT two years to come up with a concept used on discussion boards since the nineties.
The main criticisms revolve around the entire premise of the project. The idea was to circumvent the legislative process and outsource enforcement to the private sector rather than pass new laws. Since the recommendations were voluntary, and they were in direct conflict with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, it soon became apparent that the project would go nowhere.
The Charter guarantees freedom of expression and opinions, so the only way to get around it is to pass new legislation, under which terror related content would be exempt from protected speech. Since the EU has become so tolerant that it is now actually tolerating intolerance, clamping down on radicals seems very unlikely.