UK threatens to tax ‘ruthless profiteers’ Facebook and Google if they don’t do more to combat extremism

ISIS Facebook YouTube Reuters illustrationAn illustration showing the logos of internet companies in front of an ISIS flag.Reuters

  • The UKs security minister said tech firms must do more against extremism.
  • Ben Wallace criticised companies who provide encrypted messaging.
  • He also attacked “inaction” on removing terrorist content.
  • Wallace suggested increased taxes to fund expensive counter-terror agencies.
  • This could reportedly take the form of a one-off “windfall tax.”

The UK government is considering new taxes on large tech firms like Facebook and Google because of their alleged inaction against extremist groups.

Ben Wallace, the UK’s security minister, described tech companies as “ruthless profiteers” who were doing too little to help the government combat terrorists who often take advantage of their platforms.

In an interview with The Sunday Times newspaper, Wallace said that law enforcement and security services were being forced to spend hundreds of millions of pounds extra to keep Britain safe because of what he characterised as an insufficient response from the tech sector.

He said:

“Because of encryption and because of radicalisation, the cost… is heaped on law enforcement agencies.

“I have to have more human surveil­lance. It’s costing hundreds of millions of pounds. If they continue to be less than co-operative, 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 they could do, we’re having to de-radicalise people who have been radicalised. That’s costing millions. They can’t get away with that and we should look at all options, including tax.”

The Sunday Times suggested that the most likely way for the government to get any extra money from the tech industry would be via a one-off “windfall tax,” a method used by Tony Blair’s government in the 1990s to extract cash from the gas, electricity, telecoms and rail industries.

Ben Wallace, Security MinisterUK security minister Ben WallaceUK Parliament

Wallace criticised the companies for their lack of co-operation with government authorities, and described their business model as “ruthless”.

He said: “We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers. They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government.”

Wallace did not name any companies directly, but his criticism of poorly policed radical content is a clear reference to Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook.

The criticism of encrypted messaging is also hard to interpret as anything except a reference to WhatsApp.

Wallace’s boss, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, is already in a longstanding feud with Facebook over WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, which has reportedly seen Facebook refuse point-blank to give the government backdoor access to the service.

Elsewhere in the interview, Wallace said the threat from extremism is especially pressing now because ISIS’s defeat in the Middle East means it will now shift its focus to terror attacks on Western countries.

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