‘The web is a terrorist’s command-and-control network of choice.’ That’s the title of an opinion article in the Financial Times, written by Robert Hannigan, the chief of Britain’s electronic spying agency GCHQ.
The digital natives who joined the terrorist organization Isis are very adept in using social media and in the use of encryption techniques. Their practices, such as beheadings and stoning, often seems to date from the Middle Ages or pre-medieval times, but they also produce high quality video footage and they use WhatsApp to coordinate their operations.
Hannigan points out the internet skills of these terrorist digital natives and laments the fact that big internet companies are less ready to collaborate with government agencies.
While I do have many questions about the surveillance practices of the various spy agencies, I’m also worried about what Hannigan describes. The augmentation of the human intellect made possible by the internet has a very dark side. The individual or small groups of individuals can engage into peer-to-peer learning in order to build a better and more tolerant and compassionate world, but they can also learn to master techniques aimed at the destruction of such world.
The ‘personal learning environments’ of young terrorists can help them not only to master social media techniques and ways to hide on the internet, but also how to build and use weapons of mass destruction. It seems that the empowerment of the individual is culminating in a race with the empowerment of state agencies trying to prevent the worst scenarios. These are interesting but sad times.