A digital challenge to ISIS?

Dec 07, 2015, 1:46 PM EST
At the No on 8 rally at Boston City Hall, November 15, 2008. (Source: Tim Pierce/Flickr)
At the No on 8 rally at Boston City Hall, November 15, 2008. (Source: Tim Pierce/Flickr)

While the world fumbles for ways to address the growing threat of the Islamic State, some technological strategies have cropped up from both government-based officials and private organizations. Anonymous, a well-known hacker group which performs vigilante-style acts like exposing data on racist or homophobic groups and individuals, such as the Westboro Church, issued announcements following the Paris attacks in which it said it would digitally combat the Islamic State and use the full extent of its virtual power to try to dismantle the terrorist organization. It announced on Monday that it declares December 11 a "Day of Rage" against I.S., which it refers to as Daesh, calling on users to mock the group online. As part of its “OpIsis” campaign, Anonymous says that the Day of Rage will entail official trolling against I.S. sympathizers through various channels on social media. Part of its plan is to use hashtags that I.S. members use and post mocking photos, but that is just one of the group’s suggestions. This trolling day targets social networks — a huge, if not the primary, avenue through which the Islamic State seeks and gathers new recruits. Indeed, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for the stemming of I.S.’s social media power on Sunday before President Barack Obama’s speech to the country detailing how the U.S. is addressing the threat of terrorism.

Other digital tactics have emerged, not all with the aim of digitally weakening I.S. According to French newspaper Le Monde, documents from the Ministry of Interior of the French government reveal that the government is considering a ban on free and shared Wi-Fi during its state of emergency, as well as blocking Tor, software used to enable anonymous communication. Additionally, VoIP services would be required to hand over encryption keys -- a measure that underscores global skepticism of the benefits of encryption as recently examined by Blouin News. The government would pass these measures with new legislation, which could go before parliament as early as January 2016. 

Even if those proposed laws are written and signed, it's unclear how exactly the French government plans to make them reality. Blocking Tor might be impossible unless France implements something akin to China's Great Firewall; the least the government might be able to do is make Tor illegal to use, as Ars Technica suggests. The backlash from either of those measures, should they be implemented, will be widespread, and many will see those efforts as misdirected. The ironic juxtaposition of France's potential attempts to limit certain web access with Anonymous' underground work is inescapable. Anonymous champions the free and open internet, seeing it as a tool to combat terror; France is looking to shut certain digital avenues in the hopes of blocking terrorist communication. Whatever tactic will ultimately work better, both entities are still in the nascent stages of figuring out how to go about managing the Islamic State's threat.