United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Issues Report on Combating Terrorist Use of Internet

By Peter Bernstein October 23, 2012

It has been a well-known reality that terrorists around the world have come to rely on the Internet as a valuable tool. Unfortunately, they have shown great dexterity in leveraging the reach and impact of the Internet to do such things as: recruit, finance, spread propaganda, train and incite followers to commit acts of terrorism, and gather and disseminate information for terrorist purposes.

In an effort to help Member States of the United Nations more effectively investigate and prosecute terrorist incidents involving the use of the Internet, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)has released apublication, entitled "The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes.”

Billed as the “first of its kind,” the 148 page report was produced in collaboration with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force. It was launched at a conference held at the Austrian Ministry of Interior in Vienna. Speaking at the unveiling of the report, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said:

"Potential terrorists use advanced communications technology often involving the Internet to reach a worldwide audience with relative anonymity and at a low cost. Just as Internet use among regular, lawful citizens has increased in the past few years, terrorist organizations also make extensive use of this indispensable global network for many different purposes."

He went on to say that with the new tool, UNODC aimed to provide “practical guidance for the investigation and prosecution of cases where the Internet is used for terrorism.”

A “How-to” guide to investigate and prosecute terrorists

The report was produced with financial support from Government of the United Kingdom. Through the use of real examples of legal cases it is intended as a stand-alone resource for criminal justice practitioners, and in support of the capacity-building initiatives of UNODC.

Having leafed through the document, what jumps out is how the laws of many Member States need to be modernized to be effective and the examples of what works are likely to be very helpful for countries that are struggling with the problems of criminalizing and prosecuting terrorist acts that involve the Internet. What also seems critical is the report’s emphasis on the need for:

·         Enhancement of cooperation between criminal justice systems and the private sector

·         International cooperation particularly where the preservation and retention of internet-related data takes place in several jurisdictions

For those unfamiliar with UNODC, it should be noted that it is the key UN entity for delivering counter-terrorism legal and related technical assistance to Member Nation to implement the provisions of the international legal instruments against terrorism. And, as the launch materials point out, “UNODC actively participates in the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, ensuring that the UNODC counter-terrorism work is carried out in the broader context of, and coordinated with, United Nations system-wide efforts through the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.”

If you read nothing else pages 134 through 141 get the heart of the matter dealing with:

·         Policy and legislative frameworks

·         Investigations and intelligence-gathering

·         International cooperation

·         Prosecutions

·         Private sector cooperation

This is an important document that is sure to create intense interest. As Ban Ki-mmon, Secretary-General of the United Nations states, “The Internet is a prime example of how terrorists can behave in a truly transnational way; in response, States need to think and function in an equally transnational manner. “  

The forward of the report sums it all up quite well: “The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes is a rapidly growing phenomenon, requiring proactive and coordinated response from Member States.”  This is if nothing else a good place to start the conversation.


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