People-smugglers using social media to organise migrant crossings, MPs told

3 September 2020, 22:24

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Migrant Channel crossing incidents. Picture: PA

The NCA flagged 1,200 pages related to organised immigration crime to social media companies for closure, but 485 of their applications were rejected.

Facebook, YouTube and other social media companies are not removing pages believed to be linked to people-smuggling because they do not breach terms and conditions, MPs have been told.

Criminals are taking advantage of end-to-end encryption and closed groups to facilitate the movement of migrants from France to the UK, a senior official from the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Rob Jones, director of threat leadership at the NCA, told the Home Affairs Committee that this has been “challenging” for the agency.

Posts offering people smuggling services are banned on Facebook, however requests for information on how to get smuggled are permitted, the PA news agency understands.

Mr Jones said: “For instance, in the first five months of the year we referred over 1,200 pages related to organised immigration crime to social media companies for closure.

“Now, of those, 578 were closed and 485 were rejected as not breaching terms and conditions.

“We were very certain when we made these referrals that there was a problem with those accounts.

“To see that level of attrition with not all those accounts being closed is challenging for us.”

Mr Jones hesitated to name individual social media companies but when pressed if Facebook and YouTube would be among them, he replied: “Yes, they would.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover by the RNLI (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A Facebook spokesperson told PA: “People smuggling is illegal and any ads, posts, pages or groups that co-ordinate this activity are not allowed on Facebook.

“We work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world including Europol to identify, remove and report this illegal activity.”

While content that offers or assists in the smuggling of people is banned on Facebook, requests for help on how to get smuggled are allowed.

Also permitted is information on how to leave a country illegally if offers to assist are absent.

This is to assist people who may need to escape from life-threatening situations.

YouTube said that videos that encourage dangerous or illegal behaviour are against its policies.

Videos documenting migration are not immediately in violation, unless they encourage or instruct on a dangerous or illegal behaviour, the company added.

Mr Jones was also asked by Labour MP Diane Abbott about what will happen to UK access to European criminal intelligence at the end of the transition period in December.

She said: “It won’t be legal for them to allow British access to EU databases.”

Mr Jones said that each EU member state also maintains individual relationships with UK law enforcement.

He added: “You are absolutely right in terms of the risks of loss to Europol data, and that is something that we will try to mitigate through bilateral relationships.”

By Press Association

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