Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes

Although the benefits to modern society of the Internet are numerous, it must also be recognized that the same technology which facilitates such communication can also be exploited by terrorists. The Internet can be used for the glorification of terrorist acts, incitement to commit acts of terrorism, radicalization and recruitment of terrorists, dissemination of illegal content, facilitating communication between terrorist actors and the training of potential recruits.

Pursuant to the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy  ( A/RES/60/288) of September 2006, Member States undertook to work with the United Nations to explore ways and means to coordinate efforts at the international and regional levels to counter terrorism in all its forms and manifestations on the Internet, and in particular, to counter the use of the Internet as a tool for the spread of terrorism.

In March 2012, following the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution 66/178, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was requested, within its mandate, to "develop specialized legal knowledge in the area of counter-terrorism […] and to provide assistance to requesting Member States with regard to criminal justice responses to terrorism, including, where appropriate […] the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes".

In compliance with its reinforced mandate in the area of technical assistance to Member States on preventing and combating the misuse of the Internet for terrorist purposes, UNODC set about developing a new technical assistance tool on   The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes, in collaboration with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF). The development of the publication drew on two expert group meetings held in Vienna, in October 2011 and February 2012, with the participation of Member State representatives, institutions and individual experts. 

Launched in October 2012, UNODC's technical assistance tool aims to provide practical guidance for policy makers, investigators and prosecutors on effective criminal justice responses to cases involving the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. The publication takes stock of cases where the Internet is used as a tool for the glorification of terrorist acts, incitement, recruitment and radicalization, financing, training, planning and the commission of terrorist attacks, and provides an overview of the applicable legal good practices identified in the conduct of investigations, evidence gathering and prosecution of such cases, while exploring potential opportunities to strengthen inter-State and private sector cooperation in this regard. Special attention is paid to the need to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms while investigating and prosecuting such cases. The publication highlights that any restriction to fundamental freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and to privacy, must be necessary and proportional to the threat posed and must be regulated by law, specifying in detail the precise circumstances in which interference is permitted, as called for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In this sense, the publication provides useful guidance for practitioners on how to incorporate human rights considerations throughout all phases of countering the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, from preventive information gathering to ensuring due process in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators.

The publication focuses on the legal issues surrounding cases where terrorist use the Internet as a tool rather than a means of attack. As such, it does not cover all uses of the internet for terrorist purposes, and the issues of cyber-crime, including cyber attacks, and cyber security are specifically excluded from its scope.

The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes is not intended to serve as a policy paper but rather as a practical tool in support of UNODC's capacity building activities in this emerging thematic area, as well as a stand-alone resource for practitioners.

Click here to consult The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes.