At the Christchurch Call Summit held in Paris, France last week, 17 countries and the EU as well as technology giants joined an action plan initiated by New Zealand to "eliminate terrorism and violent extremism online". The framework agreement of the summit includes accelerating research into and development of technical solutions to prevent the upload of violent extremist content online and to detect and immediately remove it; providing greater transparency in the setting of community standards or terms of service; and reviewing the operation of algorithms and other processes that may drive users towards and/or amplify terrorist and violent extremist content. Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, the US, approved an ordinance last week banning the use of face recognition technology by the municipal government in a bid to prevent the surveillance of citizens and privacy infringement. The two events underline the importance of finding the appropriate boundaries of and striking a balance between freedom of speech, privacy, combating crimes and fighting terrorism in the current world of rapid technological advance.
In the terrorist attacks that led to the death of 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, the suspect broadcast his killing spree live on Facebook, sending shock waves across the world. The Christchurch Call Summit was jointly initiated by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron. Aside from these two countries, seven countries including Britain, Canada, Indonesia and the EU also sent representatives to sign the pact at the summit. A further eight countries, including Australia, Germany, Japan and India, signed the pact from afar. Also present and signing the pledge were technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube.
During the summit, five companies including Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon released a joint statement saying they will expressly prohibit the distribution of terrorist and violent extremist content; enhance vetting measures on live streamers to reduce the risk of disseminating terrorist and violent extremist content online; regularly publish reports regarding content that must be removed; work collaboratively to improve artificial intelligence and algorithms for detecting terrorist content and improve the capability to detect and remove terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Christchurch Call is a voluntary framework agreement that relies on the self discipline of and pledging by technology companies. An investor group made up of 55 funds worth more than NZ$ 5 trillion (about HK$25.74 trillion) will provide financial support for the pact.
While some criticise the authorities of mainland China for the tight grip on online speech and forcing social media like WeChat (known in China as Weixin) or Weibo to delete posts or shut down accounts, it is not advisable to adopt a double standard for actions of the same nature by Western countries. The Christchurch Call is a model initiated by the governments, pledged by the media and financed by the business. Working on a self disciplined online basis, this model is perhaps the most promising way at present of fighting terrorism and violence online. The rational and calm attitude demonstrated by the New Zealand government also deserves to be followed by other governments.
For the same reasons, San Francisco's move to become the first US city to ban the authorities from using face recognition also gives us food for thought. Face recognition certainly has its immense positive functions, but its infringement on personal privacy and the risk of potential leakage of personal information are also obvious. It is both a good weapon for combating crime and a double edged sword. It can be used for the good of people by enhancing livelihood and public security, but it can also be used for the surveillance of people.