Robert Hannigan, the new head of electronic spying agency GCHQ, used a Financial Times article to urge Silicon Valley big names to give security services more help in the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
The rare public comments by a senior intelligence officer will fuel the debate ignited by US leaker Edward Snowden over how much access governments should have to personal online information and what steps social networks should take to regulate content.
Classified information released by former intelligence analyst Snowden in 2013 revealed that GCHQ played a key role in covert US surveillance operations worldwide, including monitoring huge volumes of online and phone activity worldwide.
While Hannigan did not name firms directly, he highlighted militants’ use of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp and referred to graphic online videos showing the final moments of Western hostages executed by the IS group.
“However much they dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals,” he wrote in the FT.
“To those of us who have to tackle the depressing end of human behaviour on the Internet, it can seem that some technology companies are in denial about its misuse.”