Un articolo pubblicato ieri sul Financial Times fa riflettere sui possibili effetti del “caso Snowden”. Nell’articolo l’autore, Robert Hannigan, neo-direttore del GCHQ, l’agenzia di Sigint del sistema britannico, lamenta la scarsa collaborazione da parte di alcune importanti società di social media. Scrive Hannigan:
[…] Terrorists have long made use of the internet. But Isis’s approach is different in two important areas. Where al-Qaeda and its affiliates saw the internet as a place to disseminate material anonymously or meet in “dark spaces”, Isis has embraced the web as a noisy channel in which to promote itself, intimidate people, and radicalise new recruits.
The extremists of Isis use messaging and social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and a language their peers understand. The videos they post of themselves attacking towns, firing weapons or detonating explosives have a self-conscious online gaming quality. Their use of the World Cup and Ebola hashtags to insert the Isis message into a wider news feed, and their ability to send 40,000 tweets a day during the advance on Mosul without triggering spam controls, illustrates their ease with new media. There is no need for today’s would-be jihadis to seek out restricted websites with secret passwords: they can follow other young people posting their adventures in Syria as they would anywhere else.
The Isis leadership understands the power this gives them with a new generation. The grotesque videos of beheadings were remarkable not just for their merciless brutality, which we have seen before from al-Qaeda in Iraq, but for what Isis has learnt from that experience. This time the “production values” were high and the videos stopped short of showing the actual beheading. They have realised that too much graphic violence can be counter-productive in their target audience and that by self-censoring they can stay just the right side of the rules of social media sites, capitalising on western freedom of expression.
Isis also differs from its predecessors in the security of its communications. This presents an even greater challenge to agencies such as GCHQ. Terrorists have always found ways of hiding their operations. But today mobile technology and smartphones have increased the options available exponentially. Techniques for encrypting messages or making them anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated criminals or nation states now come as standard. These are supplemented by freely available programs and apps adding extra layers of security, many of them proudly advertising that they are “Snowden approved”. There is no doubt that young foreign fighters have learnt and benefited from the leaks of the past two years.
La sfida per i Servizi di intelligence occidentali è notevole e, secondo quanto scrive Hannigan, non può essere vinta senza il supporto delle società americane che gestiscono i social media. Google, Facebook e Twitter, si può dedurre.
Scrive ancora il direttore del GCHQ:
[…] GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web. I understand why they have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics. But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism. However much they 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. If they are to meet this challenge, it means coming up with better arrangements for facilitating lawful investigation by security and law enforcement agencies than we have now.
A mio avviso è possibile leggere tra le righe una neanche tanto velata lamentela riguardo ad una insoddisfacente collaborazione fornita da alcune di queste società. Una chiusura, insomma, certamente causata dallo scandalo Snowden e dalla pubblicazione di documenti dai quali risulta uno stretto legame tra intelligence ed aziende che operano su internet.
Scrive ancora il Financial Times:
[…] Many large internet companies have continued to adhere to requests for information from US spymasters, particularly the National Security Agency, according to security officials. But GCHQ’s intelligence-collection abilities have become “much harder” in the past 18 months, British security officials say, as US technology companies have become less co-operative with foreign intelligence agencies, even those such as the UK that work intimately with US authorities.
Three UK security officials said that US technology companies such as Google and Facebook have curbed the ability of UK intelligence to tap valuable electronic data in the wake of the Snowden leaks. “The UK has had the most to lose [from Snowden],” said one.
The UK government’s position has shifted substantially over the past year: six months ago politicians ruled out new legislation to compel internet companies to grant GCHQ access, but now many in Westminster are minded to draft new laws.
Mr Hannigan’s decision to go public with his critique will be seen as reflecting the intensity of the government’s concern. GCHQ has long been known as the most secretive of the UK’s three intelligence agencies. Sir Iain Lobban, Mr Hannigan’s predecessor, became the first director to speak publicly when he testified before parliament in the wake of the Snowden leaks last year.
Technology industry insiders expressed alarm at the idea of creating “better arrangements” to share user information – as Mr Hannigan calls for in his opinion piece.
One senior executive at a US tech group said any agreement to circumvent the current process, which requires law-enforcement groups to seek a court order before a company hands over data, would be “eliminating due process and that could be a dangerous situation”.
“What should we do if the Saudi or Russian government also demanded information be handed over on the spot?” he said.
Another industry insider said it was for the government to legislate on the rules for internet surveillance, rather than for the UK intelligence groups to “cajole” tech companies into handing over sensitive information. “We don’t believe in creating back doors,” they said.
Companies including Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft have consistently denied they have granted access to their systems to intelligence services, in response to revelations that US and UK security agencies were able to tap into the internal networks of America’s leading tech companies.
Many have also released transparency reports showing how many times they have received requests for user data from governments around the world. Executives said that these show that, in the UK, tech groups have been complying with official requests for data in greater numbers than ever before.
In other areas tech companies have enhanced co-operation with British authorities in tackling extremist content online, too.
Google’s video-sharing site YouTube allows its “community” of users to flag inappropriate content – including videos of beheadings conducted by Isis – in order for them to be taken down. The Home Office has been granted permissions as a “trusted flagger” of YouTube videos, allowing civil servants to request clips be taken down en masse, one of the reasons that it is rare to find graphic videos of beheadings on the site.
In altri termini, le rivelazioni dell’ex contractor dell’intelligence statunitense potrebbero essersi ripercosse negativamente su alcuni importanti aspetti operativi in materia di contro-terrorismo.