Combating Digital Forms of Terrorism

On 29 Oct 2022, a two-day meeting of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee (UNCTC) was concluded in New Delhi. The members discussed, explored, and formulated policies on combating and preventing various digital forms of terrorism. The Delhi Declaration was adopted to counter the use of new and emerging technologies for spreading terror. This declaration aims at covering the various aspects of the technologies exploited by terrorist organizations and lone-wolf terrorists. This document also speaks about the importance of human rights, public-private partnerships, and civil society engagement to fight the challenges posed by terrorism. It also invites the CTED, the Secretariat for UNCTC, to formulate ‘steering principles’ for the members after exhaustive thought processes.

‘The Delhi Declaration’ reiterates that terrorism in all shapes and sizes poses the gravest threat to global peace and security. All acts of terrorists are criminal and unjustifiable irrespective of the motives behind such actions. The threat of terrorism is ongoing, affecting a significant number of countries worldwide and trying to undermine the various nations’ security, stability, governance, and social and economic development initiatives. It also emphasized that terrorism must not be linked with any religion, nationality, civilization, or ethnic group. Terrorism is terrorism that is a threat to humankind.

Nowadays, terrorism has become widespread, with increased usage of new and emerging technologies, for carrying out their ulterior motives. At the same time, we must recognize that technological innovations may offer significant counter-terrorism opportunities to deal with terrorists.

Terrorist organizations are increasing their footprints in this globalized world by using social media and garnering support for their cause by indulging in activities such as financing, planning, and preparation for terror activities. It is well recognized that revolutions in financial technologies, products, and services might offer economic prospects, but these advanced technologies could be misused for financing terrorism.

Another cause of grave concern is the misappropriation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) by terrorists to carry out terror attacks and intrusions into vital infrastructure, soft targets, and trafficking of drugs and arms. Members acknowledged that there is a requirement to strike a subtle balance between nurturing innovation and thwarting and countering new and emerging technologies.

Members were asked to fulfill their obligations enshrined in appropriate worldwide counter-terrorism agreements and protocols to which they are a party and continue their efforts towards the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Members must thwart and deny the financing of terrorist activities and abstain from giving any support, active or passive, to organizations or persons involved in terrorist activities. Also, the nations must take initiatives to defeat the recruitment process of members of terrorist groups and obstruct the supply of weapons and warlike stores to terrorists consistent with international law. Terrorists must be denied safe havens and should be brought to the books as per the law of the land.

Terrorists exploit this digital platform using drones, social media, and online terror funding. Terrorists abuse online spaces to shape networks, obtain weapons, and gather logistical and financial support. Other matters of concern are using incipient payment procedures, such as pre-paid cards and mobile payments, or virtual assets and online funding methods, such as crowdfunding platforms meant for terrorists. There is also the potential for using emerging technologies, including UAS, artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, self-driving cars, and 3D printing, terrorists to fulfill their aims.

How to prevent and counter the use of digital platforms by terrorists? Technology is one of the strategic aspects driving the augmented use of the Internet by terrorist outfits and their sympathizers for various objectives, such as recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, a provocation to carry out acts of terrorism, and gathering and disseminating information for these terrorist organizations. The benefits of the Internet are self-evident. It may also be used to facilitate communication within terrorist organizations and to communicate information on and material support for planned actions of terrorism, all of which require specific technical knowledge to investigate these offences effectively. It is a generally recognized principle that, notwithstanding the brutal nature of their acts, alleged terrorists should also be tried with the same procedural protections under criminal law as other suspects.

Firstly, we should become conversant with how terrorists are using the Internet and social media, and then we should be able to scan their activities. Secondly, we must safeguard our society against terrorism by spreading awareness. Society should be adequately prepared for appropriate backup strategies and plans to deal with the consequences of terrorists who exploit the Internet. Government agencies and private players must come forward to discharge this responsibility effectively.

An effective strategy must be evolved to control and discredit the terrorist message, refute safe havens for terrorists on the Internet, frustrate their capacity to get support from a vulnerable online population, and continue to monitor their communications on web forums. Media entrepreneurs can follow the lead of Google, which has removed numerous violent videos of terrorist organizations from YouTube. Internet providers that repeatedly aid terrorist entities by hosting their websites should be dealt with as per the law of the land.

Terrorism financing provides financial backing to terrorists or terrorist organizations to allow them to carry out terror attacks or to assist any terrorist or terrorist organizations. Even though funds may come from unlawful activities, they may also be consequential from legal sources, i.e., through salaries, revenue from legitimate businesses, or donations, including non-profit organizations. Comparable to money laundering, there are commonly three stages in terrorism financing: raising, moving, and using funds. Despite the different stages, how terrorism financing is done is similar and, in some cases, may be identical to the methods used to launder money. In both cases, the perpetrator seeks to misuse the financial or non-financial sectors for illegitimate purposes.

Terrorists depend on money and funds to operate, plan and execute their attacks. Depriving them of the necessary funds is one of the most critical steps in combating terrorism. An effective CTF regime will prevent financial flows to terrorists or terrorist organizations, thus preventing them from harming society. As part of the CTF regime, Targeted Financial Sanctions (TFS) mechanism is put in place to list specified entities under the AMLA. TFS involves a mechanism to deny specified entities from making any transaction.

A counter-drone refutes airspace ingress to UAS that aren’t allowed to fly there. Counter-UAS (C-UAS) is a state-of-the-art system that detects, track, identify and mitigate small UAS.  C-UCAS is a military term for the anti-drone is often used. Drones were once a product limited to the military domain. However, this technology has exploded in recent years and is now widely available in commercial, industrial, and consumer. Drones are no longer a limited product military. The use of UAVs and drones has exploded thanks to the private players and is now widely available in commercial, industrial, and consumer markets.

Terrorists are technology-neutral and adaptive. With the fast technological development, terrorists are all the time more abusing financial services enabled by new and emerging technologies to augment intensive care and controls in the formal financial system. Globally, the risks and threats posed by using UAS for terrorist purposes have proliferated in recent years. Events such as the disruptions of flights due to UAS activity demonstrate the potential threat that terrorists could pose by using weaponized UAS. There is a need to adopt legislation to regulate their use, keep pace with technological developments in this area, and develop detection and destruction mechanisms.

Conclusion: The various aspects involved in combating terrorist activity promoted by the Internet are a vast and discursive subject that needs to be explored separately. There has been a marked increase in online radicalization, recruitment, fundraising, training, procurement of weapons, and warlike stores. It became apparent that the emerging capacity for people to connect remotely with others all over the world offered both opportunities and risks. The Internet has enabled terrorist groups to reach deep into every layer of society.

Though much has been achieved in preventing and countering emerging technologies for terrorist purposes, substantial deficits remain. Many countries face challenges such as countering terrorist narratives, curbing online content, and tracing and identifying terrorist crimes planned and committed online. These criminal activities include terrorism financing and procuring weapons, UAS, and their components online. Many also still lack sufficient legal and regulatory frameworks, data management and processing protocols, risk and impact assessment practices, and rigorous access controls and records for technology-based systems, including those based on AI. It is thus essential to be vigilant in analyzing how actors will leverage and innovate new technologies for malicious purposes, and we must initiate actions to nullify their causes.






About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.