An EU project to draw up guidelines to reduce terrorist use of the internet has been described as a total waste of money by independent watchdog EDRi (European Digital Rights).
The Clean IT project published its final report at the start of the week, but the 30-page document "meanders directionlessly from the vague to the vacuous and back again," said EDRi coordinator Joe McNamee yesterday.
According to the Clean IT report: "The vast majority of internet use is legal and beneficial to its users. However, the internet is also used for illegal purposes." Such insights cost more than €325,000 (£275,000) to the European Commission, which McNamee said is money down the drain.
"On the other hand, as the policy behind the document is so bad, we should be happy that the whole project is so incompetent," he added.
The stated aim of the project, which started in 2011, was to draft a set of "general principles" and to identify "best practices".
One example of a best practice that the Clean IT document advocates is: "The legal framework to reduce the terrorist use of the internet should be clearly explained to users; service providers should explain to their users how flagging systems work; abuse of the flagging mechanism should be prevented as much as possible." It continues, "While in practice it is difficult to assess whether specific content or activity is actually terrorist, some activities on the Internet are not, such as political speech, reporting about terrorism in the media and research on terrorism for academic purposes."
The report also notes that "Not all internet companies state clearly in their terms and conditions that they will not tolerate terrorist use of the internet on their platforms, and how they define terrorism. This makes it more difficult to decide what to do when they are confronted with (potential) cases of terrorist incitement."
The document continues: "In general, blocking and filtering options are considered a "bad practice", especially if it is used at state level or if it is otherwise forced on internet users. Nevertheless, at a parental/end-user level individuals should not be limited in the possibilities to protect themselves or their children from what they believe is inappropriate."
Even the Commission's own independent evaluations of the initial proposal were highly critical, EDRi said, and commented that there was no clear path to the project's objectives and that methodology was lacking.
The project received financial support not only from the European Commission, but also government partners from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. Yet the end result is "drafted so badly that it is unlikely that anyone will take it too seriously," said McNamee.