Since its rise the Internet has been associated with being a perfect instrument for terrorism and politically motivated extremist groups. It does not only function as a tool to communicate with each other but also as a means to reach out to the public. More recently the possible use of the Internet and other digital communication networks to stage a cyber-attack has been added to this association.
Although many researchers consider the possibility of such an attack at large scale still remote, the use of the Internet and other digital technology for internal and external communication by extremist groups poses a more realistic and current threat to government and society. However, the same technology gives authorities the possibility to detect, observe, and analyze vast communication streams and intervention options. Not only is this possible, it is done by authorities worldwide at a much larger scale than ever before, think of the PRISM program. The big question is: Which of the two sides can benefit the most from these technological advances?
This is no simple task. At the one hand the enhanced detection and observation by authorities of internal communication of terrorist groups has driven up the costs and resources to stage a cyber or conventional attack considerably. At the same time the wider use of detection and observation technologies also negatively impacts society as the privacy of individuals has come under strain. An important question is whether authorities will find the balance between detection and observation on the one side and privacy on the other. If not, then the authorities might not only lose their current advantage but will also face the huge costs for restoring the privacy of individuals in society.
The observation of communication of extremist groups to the public enables authorities to intervene, be it by criminalizing and prohibiting the publishing of extremist narratives or by formulating a counter narrative. Regardless, both strategies are currently considered and applied. Hopefully also in this case authorities know how to strike the right balance.