Google has given British security officials special permissions for its YouTube video site, allowing them to have content instantly reviewed if they think that it threatens national security.
The new “super flagger” powers underline growing concern among governments that are scrambling to contain the proliferation of jihadi material prompted by the war in Syria, but they 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 terror concern.
An estimated 2,000 fighters, including 400 from Britain, have gone from European countries to take part in the Syrian conflict.
The YouTube permissions that Google has given the Home Office in recent weeks include the power to flag swaths of content "at scale" instead of only picking out individual videos.
They are in part 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 existing laws.
UK prosecutors already have the power to request removal of illegal content.
The UK’s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said that the British government has to do more to deal with some 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”.
He said that among the issues being considered by the government was a “code of conduct” for internet service providers and internet companies.
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.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014)