The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes

Technology is one of the strategic factors driving the increasing use of the Internet by terrorist organizations and their supporters for a wide range of purposes, including recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, incitement to commit acts of terrorism, and the gathering and dissemination of information for terrorist purposes. While the many benefits of the Internet are self-evident, it may also be used to facilitate communication within terrorist organizations and to transmit information on, as well as material support for, planned acts of terrorism, all of which require specific technical knowledge for the effective investigation of these offences.
It is a commonly accepted principle that, despite the heinous nature of their acts, alleged terrorists should be afforded the same procedural safeguards under criminal law as any other suspects. The defence of human rights is a core value of the United Nations and a fundamental pillar of the rule-of-law approach to the fight against terrorism. The present publication accordingly highlights the importance of respect for the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms at all times and, in particular, in the context of the development and implementation of legal instruments related to countering terrorism.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as a key United Nations entity for delivering counter-terrorism legal and related technical assistance, actively participates in the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, thus ensuring that the counter-terrorism work of UNODC is carried out in the broader context of, and coordinated with, United Nations system-wide efforts. In January 2010, the Task Force’s Working Group on Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes initiated a series of conferences involving representatives from Governments, international and regional organizations, think tanks, academia and the private sector to evaluate the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes and potential means to counter such use. The objective of the Working Group initiative was to provide Member States with an overview of the current nature of the challenge and to propose policy guidelines, projects and practical guidance regarding legal, technical and counter-narrative aspects of the challenge. Working Group conferences were held in Berlin in January 2010, Seattle (United States of America) in February 2010 and Riyadh in January 2011.
In furtherance of its mandate “to develop specialized legal knowledge in the area of counter-terrorism … and to provide assistance to requesting Member States with regard to criminal justice responses to terrorism, including … the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes,” the Terrorism Prevention Branch of UNODC, in collaboration with the Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch of UNODC and with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, undertook to contribute to the Working Group project through the development of the current technical assistance tool on the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. The current UNODC publication builds upon the conclusions of the Working Group conferences, and in particular the conference held in Berlin in January 2010, relating to Internet-specific legal aspects of terrorism.
In connection with the development of the present publication, UNODC convened two expert group meetings in Vienna, in October 2011 and February 2012, to provide a forum for counter-terrorism practitioners, from a geographically diverse group of Member States, to share their experiences relating to the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. Experts from a total of 25 Member States participated in these meetings, including senior prosecutors, law enforcement officers and academics, as well as representatives from several intergovernmental organizations. The present publication draws heavily on the discussions and expertise shared during those meetings, and is intended to provide practical guidance to Member States to facilitate the more effective investigation and prosecution of terrorist cases involving the use of the Internet.

UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimein collaboration with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Tasr ForceUnited Nations, September 2012

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