UK Gov Launches Tech Partnership to Halt Boats | Mirage News

UK Gov Launches Tech Partnership to Halt Boats | Mirage News

  • Partnership with social media companies to clamp down on people smugglers’ operations online

  • Illegal crossings remain down on last year and returns are at their highest level since 2019

  • Extra funding and resources for law enforcement to tackle harmful content

A voluntary partnership between social media companies and government will accelerate action to tackle people smuggling content online, such as criminals sharing information about illegal Channel crossings, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced today [Sunday 6th August].

It comes as new figures show the government continues to make progress on the Prime Minister’s plan to stop the boats: crossings remain down on last year, the legacy asylum backlog has been reduced by a third since December 2022, and enforced returns of people with no right to be in the UK are at their highest level since 2019.

While figures from the NCA show that over 90% of online content linked to people smuggling is taken down when social media companies are notified, the partnership between tech firms and government will drive forward efforts to clamp down on the tactics being used by criminal gangs who use the internet to lure people into paying for crossings.

This content can include discount offers for groups of people, free spaces for children, offers of false documents and false claims of safe passage – targeting vulnerable people for profit and putting people’s lives at risk through dangerous and illegal journeys.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at source.

That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk.

This new commitment from tech firms will see us redouble our efforts to fight back against these criminals, working together to shut down their vile trade.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:

Heartless people smugglers are using social media to promote their despicable services and charge people thousands of pounds to make the illegal journey into the UK in unsafe boats.

They must not succeed.

This strengthened collaboration between the National Crime Agency, government and social media companies will ensure content promoting dangerous and illegal Channel crossings doesn’t see the light of day.

The partnership will build on the close working already in place between government and social media companies, and includes a range of commitments to explore increased collaboration.

Under this initiative, social media companies will look to increase cooperation with the National Crime Agency to find and remove criminal content and step up the sharing of best practice both across the industry and with law enforcement.

The voluntary partnership also includes a commitment to explore ways to step up efforts to redirect people away from this content when they come across it online. This approach is already widely being used successfully by platforms, for example around harmful content promoting extremism or eating disorders, where people are presented with alternative messages to displace, rebut or undermine the damaging content they searched for – diverting them away from harmful messaging and misinformation.

Alongside the partnership, the government will also set up a new centre led by the National Crime Agency and Home Office to increase the capacity and capability of law enforcement to identify this content on social media platforms.

Known as the ‘Online Capability Centre’, backed by £11m funding, its work will focus on undermining and disrupting the business model of organised crime groups responsible for illegal crossings and using the internet to facilitate these journeys by intensifying efforts to combat their online activity.

The centre will be staffed by highly trained technical specialists alongside law enforcement officers and will work by building a clearer picture of the scale of illegal immigration material online. They will work with internet companies to identify more of this material, notifying platforms so they can take the appropriate action. The centre will also focus on developing and building a bank of intelligence around the criminal networks who are promoting people smuggling services online, which will help improve law enforcement’s ability to identify content and in turn help drive investigations.

To harness the potential of new technology such as AI to clamp down on criminals’ content, government will also hold a ‘hackathon’ event with industry experts in order to develop innovative new tools which will better detect people smugglers’ publicly available content online, to help social media companies take it down more quickly.

Government will also intensify the existing work taking place with social media companies ahead of the Online Safety Bill coming into effect.

Once in force, under the Bill social media companies will be required to make sure their systems and processes are designed to prevent people coming into contact with illegal content created by people smugglers, minimise how long this content is available online and remove it as soon as possible once they become aware of it.

Alongside this, the Bill also requires major platforms to publish annual transparency reports setting out what they’re doing to tackle online harms. This could include information around how content around illegal migration is spread across platforms, how frequently it is uploaded, and what systems and processes companies have in place to deal with this kind of content.

The partnership confirmed today also builds on the work of the « Social Media Action Plan », a voluntary agreement between the Home Office, National Crime Agency and five major social media platforms in 2021 to increase understanding of how organised criminals used their platforms to promote illegal services.

To date, this cooperation has seen more than 4,700 posts, pages or accounts have been removed or suspended as a result, increasing disruption of organised crime groups’ activity, and today’s partnership will drive further progress.

Stopping the boats is one of the Prime Minister’s top five priorities and the government is fully focused on delivering his whole system plan to tackling illegal migration. This includes:

  • stepping up law enforcement activity, with 50% more illegal working visits carried out in the first half of this year compared to the first half of last year

  • tackling the legacy asylum backlog, which has reduced by nearly a third since the end of December

  • passing the Illegal Migration Act which will ensure that people who come to the UK illegally will be detained and swiftly removed.

Working with international partners to tackle this global challenge is another key strand of efforts to stop the boats, and since taking office the PM has secured new agreements with allies, including strengthened partnerships with France and Albania which will see 40% more patrols on French beaches, and have resulted in a 90% drop in Albanian small boat arrivals in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period last year.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) might be of the point-in-time nature, and edited for clarity, style and length. Mirage.News does not take institutional positions or sides, and all views, positions, and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s).View in full here.

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