Google has granted the UK security services privileged ‘super flagger’ status over YouTube videos, enabling the government to demand instant screening of videos it deems threaten national security.
The new powers are supposedly intended to help the government combat the promotion of extremist videos promoting terrorism. Furthermore, the super-flagger status will enable security officials to flag swathes of videos, rather than identifying them one-by-one.
It follows a campaign led by government to persuade internet companies to proactively censor content, even though content can already be removed if it can be shown that it breaks the law.
However, privacy campaigners will argue that it represents a further creep of censorship and surveillance powers exercised by the government over the internet, which will only become more extensive.
They will not have been reassured by the admission of the security and immigration minister James Brokenshire that the powers will be used to flag for expedited removal of videos that are currently legal.
Brokenshire told the Financial Times newspaper that the government wanted more power to deal with material “that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive”.
Brokenshire suggested that the government was also pushing for a “code of conduct” for internet service providers and other internet companies, which might include changing search algorithms to downgrade “unsavoury” content in internet searches.
Google told the FT that while the Home Office had been given these new permissions, the company still retained the right to decide whether they ought to be removed or not. Google’s own user policy on YouTube forbids content that incites hatred or violence.
It added, though, that the Home Office was one of a number of organisations given “super flagger” status to speed up the review and removal process.