Tech firms tipping off extremists – counter-terror chief

© Dado Ruvic
Some terror investigations have been stopped in their tracks because technology companies are tipping off extremists online, according to the UK's most senior counter-terror police officer.

Mark Rowley of Scotland Yard said officers have been forced to prolong dangerous investigations and have lost track of some terror plots because tech companies do not cooperate fully.

He added in some cases, counter terror officers were “blinded” by impenetrable encryption surrounding messages. 

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Rowley branded tech companies “irresponsible,” suggesting some were even deliberately “undermining” investigations by withholding important data.

“Some simply undermine us by adopting a policy that if they supply data to us they will tell the subject that they have done that,” Rowley said.

He claimed gathering intelligence on Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) is “more patchy” than probes on al-Qaeda.

“[There have been] terrorist cases in the past where our digital surveillance gaps have meant that as the plot has developed we have been unsighted on what they are planning,” Rowley said.

“If we are glibly creating a safe operating environment for criminals and terrorists, we are going to regret it.

“We have had occasions where we’ve had to prolong dangerous operations and prolong arrests because encryption has been slowing our process. That delay makes me very, very nervous,” he said.

Rowley’s comments come as a huge transatlantic data deal used by many social media companies was found to have been invalid following the spying revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The US Safe Harbor Decision was found to have been invalid by the EU Commission.

The Court of Justice declares that the (European) Commission’s US Safe Harbor Decision is invalid,” it said in a statement.

The case was brought against Facebook by Austrian law student Max Schrems, a privacy rights campaigner, who filed the case in Ireland where Facebook’s European headquarters are based.

He said the Safe Harbor deal, which is currently 15 years old, is too weak to guarantee user privacy.

Irish authorities must now decide whether data transfers from Facebook’s European users to the US should be suspended, the court said. They could be suspended on the grounds that the country “does not afford an adequate level of protection of personal data.

Schrems tweeted “YAY” after the ruling.