Letter from GIFCT Independent Advisory Comittee Chair, Bjørn Ihler

Letter from GIFCT Independent Advisory Comittee Chair, Bjørn Ihler
15 December 2021 GIFCT
In Letter, News

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) was, as the name indicates, intended to be a forum; a meeting space, and a place for conversation among a wide range of stakeholders to tackle the challenging topic of protecting our shared online spaces from the harmful abuse of those with terroristic intent. The Independent Advisory Committee (IAC) is one of the avenues through which the GIFCT embodies this – by bringing together, and listening to the voices of stakeholders beyond the corporate members of the organization.

By convening voices from government and civil society the IAC provides an outside perspective, insights and expertise to guide the GIFCT as an organization with an impact that reaches beyond the bounds of the member companies, the technology sector and indeed the realm of the internet. The IAC supports the GIFCT, the Operating Board, the Executive Director and other staff in navigating the complex CT/CVE landscape, striving to ensure that GIFCT fits into the larger field in a way that is meaningful and impactful and without replicating the work of other bodies and while remaining conscious of the evolving landscape both of terrorist activity and of global legislation, policy and technology efforts to counter the terrorist misuse of the internet.

I am excited to see GIFCT increasing engagement with the broader community of stakeholders from around the globe, reaching beyond, and building upon the existing networks of members of the IAC and the Working Group community. Ensuring that the diverse voices of human rights groups, rightsholders, and communities impacted by the work of GIFCT around the globe are heard at every level of decision making processes is key to cement the legitimacy, and added value of GIFCT as a body.

Providing insights, knowledge, and healthy resistance, the IAC and the wider multistakeholder community should be serving as a conscience in the processes of making decisions for an organization that through its members has the potential of affecting more users than any government in the history of the planet has governed. In this I am happy to see an increased focus on meaningful transparency and community engagement from the GIFCT. Extending the standards to which GIFCT is holding member companies with respect to transparency, and respect for human dignity and rights is one key area for further development in the year to come as the membership structure is further fleshed out.

As a novel construct, and as a new organization setting up the triangular structure including the IAC, the Operating Board and the GIFCT and Executive Director has come with some challenges. While much has been accomplished, we are still working to make this structure as effective, transparent and impactful as possible for all involved. Throughout the last few months of 2021 the IAC and Operating Board have worked to review existing documentation and establish new practices to ensure that the IAC is utilized in the best possible way going forwards, and that channels of communication and collaboration, while avoiding duplication of work are as streamlined as possible while maintaining the independence of the IAC.

With the restructuring of the Working Groups and a growing focus on wider, and more diverse community engagement it is my hope that the engagement both with the IAC and the wider multistakeholder community will prove both meaningful and impactful in new ways as we advance the work of the organization.

The Human Rights Impact Assessment was a key product resulting, among others, from engaged contributions of the IAC this year. By inviting a broad range of representatives, both from IAC members and from external groups, the assessment contributed both to ensure the protection of rights, and to advance the relationship and level of trust between GIFCT and the wider stakeholder community. This early focus on human rights served to cement human rights as a key focus area and fundamental value of GIFCT as an organization, further informing the course of the organization in subsequent endeavours. The assessment will continue to serve as a guiding document as we advance the work of both the IAC and the organization, deliver on recommended actions, and continuously take into account rightsholders and impacted communities as key stakeholders in the work.

The IAC played a key role in advancing the expansion of the taxonomies and definitions framework of GIFCT. Not only did the group highlight the need for an expansion on the existing framework, but we also established a working group that produced a new practical taxonomy framework to empower GIFCT and member companies to better enforce policies, allocate resources, improve the GIFCT hash sharing database and the tools available to prevent the terrorist misuse of online services. Through this work we also welcomed the inclusion of PDF files and URLs in the GIFCT hash-sharing database, and firmly believe that will have a significant impact, while urging the continuous growth of this important tool to also include emerging types of content while remaining vigilant in protecting both fundamental freedoms and human dignity and lives.

Beyond contributing to these larger efforts the IAC continues to work closely with GIFCT both through active participation in operating board meetings, through regularly scheduled meetings with board members, and through the continuous bilateral dialogue between IAC members, the chair of the Operating Board, the Executive Director and GIFCT staff who regularly reach out to individual members of the committee for feedback and advise both on strategy, operations, activities and efforts.

In the world of counter terrorism it is easy to fall into the trappings of the day-to-day newscycle, of being reactive to the latest incident rather than being proactive in meeting evolving challenges. It is easy to look back at previous incidents, and to plan for how to meet replications of those, but as technology and terrorist tactics constantly evolve so must our measures to proactively combat the terrorist abuse of our shared online spaces both for purposes of recruitment, coordination, fundraising and spread of propaganda.

The member companies of GIFCT are on the cutting edge of developing technology – we know that malicious users with terroristic intent will be among the early adopters of new and evolving technology in the future, as they have been in the past. As the organization grows in membership, and as the existing member, and founding companies launch new products, services and ventures that may fall outside of the landscape of content dissemination through centralized platforms that conventionally has been the focus of the field it is key that GIFCT is proactive, and holistic in its understanding of the relationship between technology, policy, society and the individual.

In this it is key that the IAC continues to be a resource to the GIFCT, a body of immense knowledge and experience, bridging the gap between policy makers, technologists, academics, and activists, supporting the work of the GIFCT while through its independence maintaining its role as a voice of reason, a conscience, as we face the challenges of the internet of tomorrow.


Bjørn Ihler

Read the GIFCT 2021 Annual Report