Online extremism ‘cannot be policed’, warns Basu

Neil Basu, the head of Counter Terrorism Policing, has warned that extremism has become so widespread online that it ‘cannot be policed’.

The recent riots at the US Capitol in Washington have reignited international debate about how extremist content and conspiracy theories should be tackled. It has added weight to the calls from campaigners for more action against hateful material.

However, concerns over potential infringements of civil liberties have sparked a parliamentary inquiry on freedom of expression. The government is assessing official recommendations to create a legal definition of extremism, which could be used to criminalise material that currently falls short of the law.

The Commission for Countering Extremism has called for a new definition of ‘hateful extremism’ that could be used by law enforcement, which could include ‘persistent hatred’, hostile beliefs directed at certain groups and material that makes the ‘moral case for violence’.

The commission’s report was published in October 2019 but the government has not responded to the recommendations or signalled whether it will adopt them.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently taking evidence on freedom of expression, and the inquiry will look at police guidance and whether new laws are needed.

Speaking to The Independent, Basu said that the Online Harms Bill, which proposes internet regulation that would force companies to remove material or face multimillion pound fines, was ‘fundamental’ to combating the issue, but that a low legal threshold could leave police ‘overwhelmed’ by cases.

Basu again reiterated to the newspaper that current coronavirus restrictions, isolation, mental illness and increasing time spent online has helped to create a ‘perfect storm’.



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