Protect and serve: Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism DG Tom Hurd on how government works together to keep the UK safe

Written by Tom Hurd on 5 March 2020 in Feature
Feature

Tom Hurd, director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office, explains the organisation’s role and his priorities for this year’s Security & Policing event

Police officers guard the scene of the London Bridge terror attack in November 2019. Photo: PA

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism is responsible for government’s strategy, policy and legislative response to the threats of terrorism. How do you promote effective inter-agency working in these areas?

On 4 June 2018, we published a strengthened version of the UK’s comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. This reflects the findings of a fundamental review of all aspects of counter-terrorism, to ensure that we have the best response to all forms of terrorism.

To achieve its aim, CONTEST places a renewed importance on ensuring the whole of government, police, local authorities, the private sector, communities and indeed individual citizens work in partnership, using all the tools we have available, to counter the threat from all forms of terrorism.

Collaboration and cooperation are fundamental to keeping people safe, and the Security & Policing event demonstrates how we work at a cross-government level and with industry and academia to deliver effective capabilities to protect us from serious and organised crime and terrorism threats.


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As well as developing specific counter-terror legislation, how does OSCT support other areas of government’s legislative agenda? For example, will you be helping to develop the expected regulations to strengthen the security of venues such as sports stadia, and ensure social media companies tackle online harm robustly?

Crowded spaces

The safety and security of the public in crowded places is of the utmost importance to government.

We have a long-established programme that provides those responsible for crowded places (including owners, operators and public authorities) with high quality advice and guidance, to enable them to: understand the terrorist threat; prepare for all types of terrorist attacks; and ensure appropriate security measures are taken.

We have reviewed where more could be done to ensure we effectively engage with and provide advice to all responsible parties, in light of the recommendations made to the government in the Prevention of Future Deaths report from the London Bridge (and other) inquests.

We are considering how and where we can work to better engage and communicate to crowded places stakeholders.

Alongside this we want to provide stakeholders with a greater range of tools to allow them to more easily and effectively assess and mitigate threats and improve preparedness.

We are also enhancing the training and awareness deliveries undertaken with crowded places managers and staff, including extending our e-learning offering.

To do this effectively we need to consider the full range of skills and capabilities across government and work with our partners across industry and academia to strengthen our response while ensuring our citizens go freely about their daily lives.  

Online Harms

OSCT is the joint lead in developing legislation to ensure online companies take a robust and consistent approach to tackling harms on their platforms. A number of the harms being addressed through this legislation are ones which the Home Office leads on, including terrorist use of the internet and child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Last year we published the online harms white paper, which set out our plan to establish in law a new duty of care on companies towards their users, overseen by an independent regulator. The duty of care will ensure companies have appropriate systems and processes in place to deal with harmful content on their services and keep their users safe.

An initial response to the white paper consultation was published on 12 February. Government will publish a full policy response in the spring.

We will also be bringing forward interim codes of practice on terrorist use of the internet and child sexual abuse and exploitation in the spring. Given the particularly serious nature of these harms we need to ensure companies do not wait until the regulator is set up before they take action to protect their users.

Terrorist groups use the internet to spread propaganda designed to radicalise vulnerable people, and distribute material designed to aid and abet terrorist attacks.

The government has been clear that tech companies need to act more quickly and collaboratively to remove all forms of terrorist content. There can be no safe spaces for terrorists to promote and share their extreme views.

Following the UK terrorist attacks in 2017, we pressed Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft to do more to stop the spread of terrorist content on their platforms. And progress has been made – including through the establishment and announced reform of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

“The government has been clear that tech companies need to act more quickly and collaboratively to remove all forms of terrorist content”

What emerging technologies are you worried by, and which ones are you excited by, in terms of their security implications?

New technologies in computing, data science, detection and protection are very exciting. Work is proceeding at pace across government, industry and academia that will help us make the most of opportunities to work in new ways to the benefit of our society and economy. 

The government recently released a new counter-drone strategy. What role does the UK security and resilience sector have to play in dealing with the threat from malicious drone users?

In October 2019 the government published its new UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy, setting out how we will harness the economic and social benefits of unmanned aircraft by reducing the risk posed by malicious or illegal use.

The strategy sets out the government’s ambition to build stronger relationships with industry so their products can meet our requirements against an ever-changing threat picture.

Government alone does not have all of the solutions – industry has a crucial role to play both in providing the future solutions to counter malicious drone use, and by making drones themselves more secure. The UK security and resilience sector must be clear about its counter-drone needs and act as a generator of the solutions to fix those challenges.

At Security & Policing 2020, you will be able to see just what industry can do now with the new and emerging technology available and we will be working with industry and academia to understand the challenges of the future to help them meet government requirements.

The government is conducting an Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. What role will OSCT play in this review, and how will you be engaging with industry partners to support the review?

The Home Office, including OSCT, will collaborate with Whitehall and wider partners to deliver the integrated review. Whilst the Home Office centre will coordinate the review of the whole department, OSCT will provide leadership on key topics including counter-terrorism and border security and help position homeland security as a critical enabler for the UK’s prosperity.

The review will also make the most of cutting-edge science and technology as we develop proposals for tackling the strategic threats we face. To do this, OSCT will build on its expertise in working closely with the public and private sectors to develop effective options in the face of new challenges. For example, the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) already works to provide security outcomes for the United Kingdom by combining government, academic and private sector expertise to strengthen our response and work in new ways to the benefit of our society and economy.

We want the review to help us meet the challenges of the coming decade, but also maintain the UK’s place as a leader in security and defence on the world stage following EU exit while providing economic benefits to society and the economy.

“OSCT will build on its expertise in working closely with the public and private sectors to develop effective options in the face of new challenges”

 

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What are the Home Office’s main objectives for Security & Policing 2020?

They are: strengthening the Home Office’s relationships with our international partners; securing sales and investment for UK businesses by showcasing innovative tools, products and methods to overseas markets; and showcasing how we are working with industry and academia across a range of national security challenges to deliver effective capability to protect us from the threats we face, while boosting the government’s prosperity agenda by promoting international trade and investment.

This year the event will include a ‘Fusion Forum’ – what will that involve and why have you launched it?

This is a new, interactive and accessible “theatre” aimed at promoting new and integrated ways to deliver security solutions across government, industry and academia. It will incorporate a blend of keynote addresses, panel sessions and live challenges.

We have launched it to demonstrate that there are many capabilities that can contribute to national security outwith traditional national security levers, and to highlight the need for stronger partnerships across government, the private sector and third sectors to address national security challenges and showcase our approach against those who intend to do us harm.

The Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) in the Home Office OSCT is responsible for the overall management and delivery of the show with our partners across industry for the second year running and last year show saw an increase of 23% in visitor numbers in comparison to 2018.

Which of the UK’s international allies do you hope to see at S&P 2020 and are there any key areas of cooperation you intend to discuss with them at the event?

The event reinforces the importance of strategic partnerships and provides a chance to boost the government’s prosperity agenda by promoting international trade and investment as well as championing free trade.

Cooperation and strong engagement with our European allies is important in a post-EU exit world; but likewise, strong relationships and engagement with countries in the Middle East is also imperative to continue the good work and cooperation on serious and organised crime and counter-terrorism.

What role do you think events like Security & Policing 2020 have to play in bringing together industry and government to protect the UK?

The UK is a global centre of excellence, with innovation at its heart working to produce some of the world’s most advanced capability solutions.

That is why JSaRC was created with the aim to bring industry, academia and private sector capabilities to provide security outcomes to meet the fast-moving and ever-evolving threats.

Security & Policing provides visitors, domestic and international, with the opportunity to view many of the UK’s security and resilience capabilities. 

It is the only government exhibition where you can see these products in a secure environment and see how government, industry and academia can closely work together to better deliver effective capability to protect us from the threats we face, including those from serious and organised crime and terrorism.

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Tom Hurd
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Tom Hurd is the director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office

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