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Oscar Williams

News editor

The government is enlisting startups to help it crack down on ISIS imagery

The government is inviting British tech firms to pitch innovative ways to crack down on image-based ISIS propaganda, as part of a new govtech competition.

Successful applicants will be awarded up to £50,000 to develop their ideas and potentially a further £500,000 to test them in the public sector.

The challenge marks the first instalment of a new GovTech Catalyst competition launched by the Government Digital Service in a bid to find new ways to address societal issues.

Oliver Dowden, minister for implementation, launched the competition at GDS’s annual Spring event on Thursday. “The GovTech fund encourages firms to find innovative ways to fix the big social problems we all face – loneliness, plastic pollution and national security,” he said.

“Through emerging technologies, this fund will elevate British companies onto a global market while helping to deliver outstanding public services and improving lives for people.”

The launch of the ISIS imagery challenge comes three months after the Home Office revealed it had partnered with ASI Data Science to develop a tool to tackle ISIS videos.

The tool has the technology to determine 94 per cent of ISIS videos with 99.995 per cent accuracy. But 80 per cent of the terrorist group’s media is imagery. GDS said in a statement: “These images, tailored for local markets, rarely contain consistent features meaning innovation is needed to have the same success as for video.”

Writing for NS Tech in February, Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, warned of the risks of automating the removal of terrorist propaganda.

“Whatever the wisdom of proceeding down this path, we need to be worried about the unwanted consequences of machine takedowns,” he wrote.

“Firstly, we are pushing companies to be the judges of legality. Secondly, all systems make mistakes and require accountability for them; mistakes need to be minimised, but also rectified.”