Web giants could be hit with major new tax if they fail to help in the fight against terror, minister warns

Ben Wallace said that the Government’s ‘patience is running out fast’ with a lack of action 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 31 December 2017 10:08
Facebook is among countries in the firing line for a potential new tax
Facebook is among countries in the firing line for a potential new tax

Web giants that are failing to adequately help the Government to fight terrorism could be hit with a major new tax, a security minister has warned.

Ben Wallace said the Government’s “patience is running out fast” with internet companies who are too slow to act against extremist content.

He struck out at “ruthless profiteers”, who he said were putting money before public safety and would not “get away” with leaving police and law enforcement to repair the damage done by radicalised content.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Wallace said: “Because of encryption and because of radicalisation, the cost of that is heaped on law enforcement agencies.

“I have to have more human surveillance. It’s costing hundreds of millions of pounds. If [internet firms] continue to be less than cooperative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivising them or compensating for their inaction.

“Because content is not taken down as quickly as it could be, we’re having to deradicalise people who have been radicalised. That’s costing millions. [The firms] can’t get away with that and we should look at all options, including tax.”

Such a tax would be similar to the windfall tax imposed on excess profits of privatised utilities by the Blair government in 1997, or the levy Margaret Thatcher’s government placed on banks in 1981, the newspaper said.

Mr Wallace also said that internet companies that have taken steps to tackle child abuse online did not appear “to be making the same effort” against extremism.

It comes after a parliamentary inquiry into fake news criticised Twitter and Facebook for failing to properly act against Russian attempts to influence British politics.

MP Damian Collins, chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said Facebook had appeared to have done “no work” to fully root out accounts that could be linked to Russian-backed agencies during the EU referendum.

Meanwhile, Twitter was condemned by the committee for a “completely inadequate” response to the investigation.

Senior executives from Twitter, Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, were accused of profiting from violence and criticised for failing to remove offensive content when they appeared before MPs in December.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, urged the companies to accelerate efforts to tackle hate crime after a number of MPs were subject to abuse online.

Labour has suggested social media companies should face “punitive” fines for failing to react quickly to offensive material that incites hatred and violence.

In June, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to address the “critical challenge” posed by the spread of terrorism online.

Google has announced it will “significantly” increase the number of staff tracking down extremist, violent and predatory content posted on YouTube to more than 10,000 in 2018.

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