The use to the internet for terrorist purposes creates both challenges and opportunities in the fight against terrorism, said former FIA director general Sanaullah Abbasi.
Talking to The News on Saturday, he said it is a new domain but very challenging. Everything has shifted towards cyberspace, but in Pakistan it is in transition, said Abbasi, who has a PhD in Law.
“We have to invest in this domain heavily to cope up with challenges in the context of human resource and technology and infrastructure.”
The way forward is to change the law to include and balance security, human rights, awakening of the masses, more investment, international cooperation, cyberattacks and virtual currency.
The former FIA chief shared his research on terrorism through the internet said that since the late 1980s, the internet has proven to be a highly dynamic means of communication, reaching an ever-growing audience worldwide. The development of increasingly sophisticated technologies has created a network with a truly global reach, and relatively low barriers to entry.
Internet technology makes it easy for an individual to communicate with their relative anonymously, quickly and effectively across borders, to an almost limitless audience, he said, adding that the use of the internet for terrorist purposes creates both challenges and opportunities in the fight against terrorism.
Abbasi said that for the purposes of the present publication, a functional approach has been adopted regarding the classification of means by which the internet is often utilised to support acts of terrorism.
This approach has resulted in the identification of six sometimes overlapping categories: propaganda (including recruitment, radicalisation and incitement to terrorism); financing; training; planning (including through secret communication and open-source information); execution; and cyberattacks.
Each of these categories is addressed in greater detail like propaganda which includes recruitment, incitement and radicalisation. The other aspects are financing, training, planning, preparatory secret communication, publicly available information, execution, cyberattacks, uses of the internet for countering terrorist activity, and rule-of-law considerations.
The ex-DG of the FIA said the terrorist use of the internet is a transnational problem, requiring an integrated response across borders and among national criminal justice systems. The United Nations plays a pivotal role in this regard, facilitating discussion and the sharing of good practices among member states, as well as the building of consensus on common approaches to combating the use of the internet for terrorist purposes.
Tools in the commission of terrorist offences involving the internet and technological advancements have provided many sophisticated means by which terrorists may misuse the internet for illicit purposes.
Effective investigations relating to internet activity rely on a combination of traditional investigative methods, knowledge of the tools available to conduct illicit activity via the internet and the development of practices targeted to identify, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of such acts.
A case from France illustrates how different types of investigative techniques, both traditional and specifically relating to digital evidence, are employed in unison to compile the necessary evidence to successfully prosecute terrorist use of the internet.
The investigation and prosecution of cases involving digital evidence requires specialist criminal investigation skills, as well as the expertise, knowledge and experience to apply those skills in a virtual environment. While the admissibility of evidence is ultimately a question of law and therefore within the remit of the prosecutors, investigators should be familiar with the legal and procedural requirements to establish admissibility for the purposes of both domestic and international investigations.
A sound working knowledge of the requirements of applicable rules of evidence, and in particular with respect to digital evidence, promotes the collection of sufficient admissible evidence by investigators to support the successful prosecution of a case. For example, the procedures used in gathering, preserving and analyzing digital evidence must ensure that a clear “chain of custody” has been maintained from the time it was first secured, so that it could not have been tampered with from the moment of its seizure until its final production in court.
Internet-based communication includes voice-over-internet protocol, electronic mail, online messenger services and chat rooms, file-sharing networks and cloud technology. Other investigations include data encryption and anonymizing techniques, wireless technology, investigations of terrorist cases involving the internet, a systematic approach to investigations involving the internet, tracing an IP address, specialized investigative utilities and hardware, forensic data preservation and recovery, and supporting the authentication of digital evidence.
The operational cybercrime units include national or regional cybercrime units, computer forensic triage units, intelligence-gathering and training.
The role of prosecutors in the prosecution of terrorism cases has become increasingly complex and demanding. In addition to responsibility for the conduct of criminal proceedings, prosecutors are becoming more involved in the investigative and intelligence-gathering phases of terrorism cases, providing guidance or supervision on the legal and strategic implications of various investigative techniques.
In the present chapter, the role of prosecutors in terrorism cases involving the use of the internet by terrorists is considered, with a view to identifying, from a prosecutor’s perspective, common challenges or obstacles and strategies and approaches that have been proven to be effective in the successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Private sector cooperation
While the responsibility for countering the use of the internet for terrorist purposes ultimately lies with member states, the cooperation of key private sector stakeholders is crucial to effective execution. Network infrastructure for internet services is often owned, in whole or in part, by private entities. Similarly, private companies typically own the social media platforms that facilitate the dissemination of user-generated content to a broad audience, as well as popular internet search engines, which filter content based on user-provided criteria,
cooperation with government authorities, data retention, websites and other platforms hosting user-generated content, internet search engines, monitoring services, public-private partnerships.