Friday, December 18, 2015

REP: JOE PITTS: Social media is a new front in war on terror

Terrorism, and Islamic terrorism in particular, has continually proven to be a global threat. In regions as far apart and as diverse as Beirut, Paris, and San Bernadino, ISIS and their sympathizers have used the technology and weaponry of civilization against civilization.

In London, a man stabbed a stranger on the Tube, shouting “this is for Syria!” The bloody aftermath was caught on a harrowing cell phone video that is now circulating on the internet.

Massive terrorism-related arrests have taken place in Brussels, Australia, and Geneva. A soccer game in Germany was evacuated due to credible terrorist threats.

According to the CIA, ISIS terrorists are present in at least 30 countries. The FBI has over 900 open ISIS-related investigations in the United States and has made some 50 arrests just in 2015. Militant groups in 20 different countries, including the notorious kidnappers Boko Haram of Nigeria, have sworn allegiance to ISIS.

Terrorists in Brussels have been proven to have made contact with ISIS leaders in Syria. The San Bernadino murderers appear to have met on an online dating website, and posted pro-ISIS propaganda on Facebook just before conducting their attacks. Terrorist plots to kill police officers in Boston and behead a blogger in Texas have been discovered by means of their social media footprint. A total of some 300 Twitter accounts based in the United States have been found to be run by terrorists.

According to research done at George Washington University, terrorist suspects recruited by ISIS in the United States tend to be younger than previous terrorist suspects, and tend to be converts to Islam. Teenage boys and girls in Mississippi, Minneapolis, and the Denver suburbs have been arrested in connection with ISIS.

In a chilling development just this week, the FBI arrested 19-year old Jabil Ameer Aziz from Harrisburg for aiding ISIS propaganda on 57 different Twitter accounts.

Part of how terrorism has gone global has been through advances in communications technology. Social media have opened up new channels of communication around our world, allowing anyone anywhere to speak to virtually anyone else anywhere almost immediately. As with any technology, this new capability can be used either for good or for evil.

While many people have used these new tools for good, terrorist groups like ISIS have been highly effective in recruiting sympathizers and cooperators around the world through social media. It is even possible that they have used online video games — through PlayStation — to communicate encrypted information. This encryption problem poses a serious challenge to our counterterrorism efforts, and Congress will have the responsibility of solving it.

No one publicizes ISIS’ murders as widely as ISIS does, posting on the internet videos of beheadings, burnings, and shootings of their enemies. ISIS is so evil that it actively recruits new terrorists all over the world using these internet videos.

We are an open society, and rightly proud to be one. But while terrorists hate the freedom of the West, they exploit it against us.

The task before our leaders is to keep our people safe, but we must not give up our freedom in order to protect it. We must hold fast to the inalienable rights and liberties of which the American people have always been jealous, and of which our enemies are so contemptuous.

These concerns are why this week, the House passed legislation that would require the President to report to
Congress on the extent of terrorist use of social media, as well as on a strategy to enhance the exchange of information between the government and social media companies so as to disrupt the terrorist recruitment networks.

The House also passed legislation introduced by Democratic Rep. Norma Torres to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and maintain an assessment of maritime cybersecurity. This bill would also require the sharing of information between Maritime Security Advisory Committees.

Earlier this year, the House passed cybersecurity reform legislation, with President Obama’s support, that would require the Director of National Intelligence to create procedures for sharing imminent threat information with the private sector, and allowing private sector entities to share cyber threat indicators or defensive measures against cyber threats.

These bills constitute neither the beginning nor the end of our efforts to combat terrorists, but they are the next step. We will continue to fight ISIS and any other threat to our safety until they are no more — whether in theater or on the Internet.

U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts is a Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District in parts of Chester, Berks and Lancaster counties.

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