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Sindh CTD chief for making use of internet to fight terrorism


June 11, 2018

While the internet can be used for terrorism, it can also help fight the menace, Sindh’s top counterterrorism official told The News during a recent interview, in which he shared his research on cyberterrorism.

Prof Dr Sanaullah Abbasi, who is the provincial chief of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), said that since the late 1980s, the internet has proven to be a highly dynamic means of communication, reaching an ever-growing audience worldwide.

“The development of increasingly sophisticated technologies has created a network with a truly global reach, and relatively low barriers to entry. Internet technology makes it easy for an individual to communicate with relative anonymity, quickly and effectively across borders, to an almost limitless audience.”

The benefits of internet technology are numerous, starting with its unique suitability for sharing information and ideas, which is recognised as a fundamental human right; it must also be recognised, however, that the same technology that facilitates such communication can also be exploited for the purposes of terrorism, he added.  


Abbasi, who also holds a PhD in law, identified six means by which the internet is often used to promote and support terrorism: propaganda (including recruitment, radicalisation and incitement to terrorism), financing, training, planning (including through secret communication and open-source information), execution and cyber attacks.

“The terrorists’ use of the internet is a transnational problem, requiring an integrated response across borders and among national criminal justice systems. The United Nations plays a pivotal role in this regard, facilitating discussion and the sharing of good practices among member states, as well as the building of consensus on common approaches to combating the use of the internet for terrorism.”

The applicable international legal framework related to counterterrorism is contained in a range of sources, including resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, treaties, jurisprudence and customary international law, he added.

Gathering intelligence

Additional Inspector General of Police Abbasi said the tools in the commission of terrorism involving the internet and technological advancements have provided many sophisticated means by which terrorists can misuse the internet for criminal purposes.

“Effective investigations relating to internet activity rely on a combination of traditional investigative methods, knowledge of the tools available to conduct illicit activity via the internet and the development of practices targeted to identify, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of such acts.”

The investigation and prosecution of cases involving digital evidence requires specialist criminal investigation skills, as well as the expertise, knowledge and experience to apply those skills in a virtual environment, he added.

He said that a sound working knowledge of the requirements of applicable rules of evidence, and, in particular, with respect to digital evidence, promotes the collection of sufficient admissible evidence by investigators to support the successful prosecution of a case.

“The procedures used in gathering, preserving and analysing digital evidence must ensure that a clear chain of custody has been maintained from the time it was first secured, so that it cannot have been tampered with from the moment of its seizure until its final production in court.”

Such as internet-based communication, including voice over internet protocol, electronic mail, online messenger services and chat rooms, file-sharing networks and cloud technology; other investigations include data encryption and anonymising techniques, wireless technology, tracing an IP address, specialised investigative utilities and hardware, forensic data preservation and recovery and supporting the authentication of digital evidence, he added.  

International cooperation

Abbasi said the speed, global reach and relative anonymity with which terrorists can use the internet to promote their causes or facilitate terrorist acts, together with complexities related to the location, retention, seizure and production of internet-related data, makes timely and effective international cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies an increasingly critical factor in the successful investigation and prosecution of many terrorism cases.

“An integral part of the universal legal framework against terrorism, and of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, is the obligation imposed on states to deny safe haven and bring to justice perpetrators of terrorist acts, wherever such acts might occur.”

The role of prosecutors in the prosecution of terrorism cases has become increasingly complex and demanding; in addition to their responsibility of conducting criminal proceedings, prosecutors are becoming more involved in the investigative and intelligence-gathering phases of terrorism cases, providing guidance or supervision on the legal and strategic implications of various investigative techniques, he added.

Private sector’s assistance

The CTD chief said that while the responsibility for countering the use of the internet for terrorism ultimately lies with the member states, the cooperation of key private sector stakeholders is crucial to effective execution.

“Network infrastructure for internet services is often owned, in whole or in part, by private entities. Similarly, private companies typically own the social media platforms that facilitate the dissemination of user-generated content to a broad audience, as well as popular internet search engines, which filter content based on user-provided criteria.”

The effectiveness of the internet as a medium for disseminating content related to acts of terrorism is dependent on both the originator of the communication and its audience having access to internet technologies, he added.

As such, he said, the primary approaches to limiting the impact of such communications are by controlling access to the network infrastructure, by censoring internet content or a combination of both.

“While the level of government regulation of the internet varies greatly among member states, in the absence of a global, centralised authority responsible for internet regulation, private stakeholders such as service providers, websites hosting user-generated content and internet search engines continue to play an important role in controlling the availability of terrorism-related content disseminated via the internet.”

Self-regulation by these private sector stakeholders may also assist in countering terrorist communication, incitement, radicalisation and training activities conducted by means of the internet, he added.

Abbasi said that private monitoring services also play a role in timely identification of internet activity that can promote acts of terrorism. Internet service providers, cooperation with government authorities, data retention, websites and other platforms hosting user-generated content, internet search engines, monitoring services and public-private partnerships can also help, he added.

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