Cameron Rebukes Internet Companies in Slain Soldier Case

Internet companies were criticized by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to root out terrorists after a report into the murder of a soldier uncovered a message where an Islamic extremist contemplated the attack.

A U.K. parliamentary committee said Michael Adebowale, one of two men convicted of killing Fusilier Lee Rigby in a grisly daylight assault last year, sent a message saying he wanted to “murder a soldier in the most graphic and emotive manner.” An unidentified technology company never turned the communication over to police, the committee said.

The report today largely cleared U.K. intelligence agencies of failing to stop the attack on the 25-year-old soldier, even though Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo were the subject of multiple surveillance operations. Cameron said he expects Internet companies to give more assistance to security and intelligence agencies to prevent terror.

“Their networks are being used to plot murder and mayhem; it is their social responsibility to act on this and we expect them to live up to that responsibility,” Cameron said in the House of Commons, where he pledged 130 million pounds ($200 million) to help disrupt terrorists.

Adebowale posted the message about his intentions on Facebook, the BBC reported, without saying where it got the information. Facebook doesn’t allow terrorist content on the site and tries to prevent it, Sally Aldous, a spokeswoman for Facebook Inc., said by e-mail.

Knives, Cleavers

Adebolajo was imprisoned for life and Adebowale for 45 years for the assault that transfixed the country. Rigby was attacked just after 2 p.m. on May 22, 2013, outside a military barracks in the Woolwich neighborhood of southeast London. Televised images of the bloodshed were transmitted around the world. Adebolajo and Adebowale ran over Rigby, then got out of their car and almost decapitated the unconscious soldier with knives and cleavers, prosecutors said during the trial.

The U.K. government plans to introduce anti-terrorism legislation this week requiring Internet companies to provide user data to authorities. Under the proposed law, Internet-service providers will have to retain information on Internet protocol addresses -- a number that identifies individual computer devices -- and supply it to security services on request to help them track users’ activities.

Shameful Spin

Privacy groups said the rhetoric about technology companies was a smokescreen to cover up intelligence agencies’ failures and justify surveillance programs that have come under heavy scrutiny since revelations from U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The committee “shamefully spins the facts seeking to blame the communications companies for not doing the agencies’ work for them,” Isabella Sankey, director of policy for human rights group Liberty, said in a statement. “The U.K. anti-terror strategy is counterproductive and failing on almost every level; yet tomorrow the government will offer more of the same.”

While the parliamentary committee didn’t identify any specific firm, its chairman called on several U.S. companies to improve their commitment to halting extremism.

Alerting Authorities

“It is quite clear that the one party that could have made a difference was the overseas-based Internet company on whose system this exchange took place,” Malcolm Rifkind, who heads Parliament’s cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee, said at a press conference following the release of the report. “Internet companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo need to play their part in alerting authorities to people who may be terrorists.”

Officials at the U.S. companies couldn’t be immediately reached to comment.

The panel, citing information from the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters, said the unnamed Internet company had closed accounts in Adebowale’s name because of terrorist content or links to other terrorist accounts. They had been shut down automatically after activating “triggers” and had not been reviewed by a human or passed to the authorities, it said.

None of the major U.S. communications service providers see themselves as compelled to comply with U.K. warrants issued under anti-terrorism legislation, the committee said. Until the issue is resolved, “the British public are exposed to a higher level of threat,” the lawmakers concluded.

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