Google has given British security officials special permissions for its YouTube video site, allowing them to have content instantly screened if they think it threatens national security.
The new “super flagger” powers underline growing concern among governments that are scrambling to contain the proliferation of jihadist material prompted by the war in Syria but are likely to stir concern among civil liberties campaigners.
Western spymasters now cite the radicalisation of their own citizens who go to fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime as their leading terrorism concern. An estimated 2,000 fighters, including 400 from Britain, have gone from European countries to Syria.
The YouTube permissions that Google has given the Home Office include the power to flag swaths of content “at scale”, instead of only picking out individual videos.
They are partly a response to a blitz from UK security authorities to persuade internet service providers, search engines and social media sites to censor more of their own content for extremist material, even if it does not always break laws.
UK prosecutors already had the power to request removal of illegal content.
The UK’s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, told the Financial Times the government has to do more to deal with material “that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive.”
Mr Brokenshire said issues being considered by the government included a “code of conduct” for internet service providers and companies.
The government, he added, was also keen to explore options where search engines and social media sites change their algorithms so that unsavoury content is less likely to appear or is served up with more balanced material – a highly controversial suggestion that is likely to be met with resistance.
Google confirmed that the Home Office had been given powerful flagging permissions on YouTube but stressed that Google itself still retained the ultimate decision on whether to remove content for breaching its community guidelines.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy on YouTube towards content that incites violence,” YouTube said. “Our community guidelines prohibit such content and our review teams respond to flagged videos around the clock, routinely removing videos that contain hate speech or incitement to commit violent acts.
“To increase the efficiency of this process, we have developed an invite-only program that gives users who flag videos regularly tools to flag content at scale.”
Google has also offered free targeted advertising to anti-extremism charities to promote their content alongside searches used by those looking for unsavoury material.
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