White House sees child porn efforts as model for fighting terrorism

White House sees child porn efforts as model for fighting terrorism
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The White House believes the government’s partnership with technology companies to limit the spread of child pornography could be a model to help blunt the effect of terrorist groups online.  

Top government officials traveled to San Jose, Calif., on Friday to meet with some of the most well-known U.S. technology companies to solicit their help in the battle against extremist propaganda.

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Expectations were muted going into the meeting that started at 2 p.m. EST, and White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there wouldn’t be any breakthrough announcements or agreements reached.  

“I do have a lot of confidence that those companies that are run by patriotic Americans are not interested in seeing their tools or their technology used by terrorists to harm innocent Americans,” Earnest told reporters in Washington before the meeting occurred. “That’s certainly not what they were designed for.” 

The meeting was meant to focus on ways to make it harder for terror groups like the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to recruit and radicalize people using the Internet. It was also supposed to focus on ways to promote content that could blunt ISIS messaging. 

“There is a precedent for us to confront this kind of problem,” Earnest said. “We know that there are some people who try to make money based on the selling and trafficking of child pornography and they are using websites to do that. And we have been able to work effectively with the tech community to counter those efforts.” 

Earnest also spoke about the potential to detect patterns about ISIS’s social media use and measure the effectiveness of efforts to counter it.  

The debate about encryption was also expected to be on the agenda.  

Lawmakers who are pushing various proposals to limit the spread of extremism online have also made the comparison to child pornography efforts. Laws are already on the books to require Internet companies to report child pornography when it is spotted on their platforms.  

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinA guide to the committees: Senate Dem: Trump's China trademark looks like a quid pro quo Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, has pushed legislation that would require Internet companies to report to the government when it obtained actual knowledge of “terrorist activity” on their platform. She modeled the legislation off child pornography laws.  

But critics of that proposal, including many tech companies, said the two issues are fundamentally different. While child pornography is identifiable and illegal on its face, “terrorist activity” is vague and harder to define. 

Most tech and social media companies already have policies to quickly remove violent or terror-related content when prompted. Twitter in December explicitly banned creating multiple accounts to be used for the same purpose, a technique used by ISIS.  

The White House on Friday made no public mention of legislation or even specific ideas it wants technology companies to adopt.  

The meeting Friday is in line with Obama’s promised outreach in the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., late last year.  

“We constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done,” Obama said in a speech last month from the Oval Office. “And that's why I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.” 

On Friday, the White House separately announced a new partnership between the Homeland Security Department and the Justice Department to counter violent extremism at home. It also announced that the State Department would shift away from direct messaging against extremism and instead empower international partners to spread the messaging.