Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit

The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) was set up in 2010 by ACPO (and run by the Metropolitan Police) to remove unlawful terrorist material content from the internet with a focus on UK based material. Content that incites or glorifies terrorist acts can be removed under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006. CTIRU compiles a list of URLs for material hosted outside of the UK which are blocked on networks of the public estate.

While action taken to remove content from sites is presumed to be done under website "Terms of Service" (thus requests are unlikely to be clearly reflected in corporate transparency reports) the Home Office definitively refers to all of the removed content as being "illegal".[1]


Only number of items is reported and requests for more detailed information, such as companies involved, have been denied as "this may provide terrorist groups with useful information"[2], but general numbers have been reported in parliament.

Between establishment in February 2010 and March 2015 it has "taken down 75,000 individual items"[3] and by June 2015 was taking down an average of 1000 "pieces" per week[4].

CTIRU take downs (approx)
Period (assumed) Takedowns (guess) Total Annual total
Feb 2010 - Mar 2012 Unknown, <3000 Unknown, <3000
Apr 2012 - Mar 2013 3,538 [5] Unknown < 6000
Mar 2013 - Jun 2013 unknown 6000 [6]
Jul 2013 - Sep 2013 500 6500 [7]
Oct 2013 - Dec 2013 11500 18000 [8] over 12000
Jan 2014 - Feb 2014 8000 26000 [9]
Mar 2014 3000 29000 [10]
Apr 2014 - Jun 2014 5000 34000 [11]
Jul 2014 6000 40000 [12][13],
Aug 2014 - Oct 2014 11000 51000 [14][15]
Nov 2014 14000 65000 [16]
Dec 2014 - Jan 2015 7000 72000 [17] 46000 [18]
Feb 2015 3000 75000 [19]
Mar 2015 5000 80000 [20]
Apr - May 2015 10000 90000 [21]
June 2015 5000 95000 [22]
Jul - Aug 2015 5000 100000 [23]
Sep - Nov 2015 20000 120000 [24]
Dec 2015 - Feb 2016 20000 140000 [25] 58000 [26], 55000[27]
Mar 2016 10000 150000 [28]
Apr 2016 10000 160000 [29]
May-Jun 2016 30000 190000[30]
Jun-Aug 2016 10000 200000[31]
Sep-Oct 2016 20000 220000[32]
Nov-Dec 2016 30000 250000[33] 121151[34], (over 120000[35])
Jan-May 2017 20000 270000[36]
June 2017 10000 280000[37]
July-Oct 2017 10000 290000[38]
Nov 2017 10000 300000[39]

"I underline the fact that any online activity by the three groups under consideration, including Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, has been referred to CTIRU. If it is assessed as illegal—there is a legal test that has to be met—CTIRU will flag it directly to Facebook and Twitter for removal."[40]
"approximately 70% of CTIRU’s caseload is Daesh related"[41]
"Overall, removals at the request of CTIRU have increased from around 60 items a month in 2010, when CTIRU was first established, to over 4,000 a month in 2016."[42]
"The unit makes 100 referrals a day related to Syria"[43]
"(CTIRU has) developed strong relationships with around 300 companies."[44]

Social media sites

"In the last 12 months (to the end of June 2015) around 38,889 internet takedowns were undertaken by the CTIRU reducing extremist material available on the Internet. That is over 100,000 since the unit was set up in 2010. Much of this has been achieved by forming working relationships with key social media outlets.[45]"
"All referrals are assessed by CTIRU against UK terrorism legislation (Terrorism Act 2000 and 2006). Those that breach this legislation are referred to industry for removal. If industry agrees that it breaches their terms and conditions, they remove it voluntarily.[46]"
"CTIRU have developed relationships with over 300 online platforms, and are a YouTube trusted flagger.[47]"
"The CTIRU, for example, are (YouTube) trusted flaggers, and they are extremely qualified experts in this area. They are constantly looking for terror-related videos and flag them to us. We are in constant touch with them—maybe every other week we hear from them. They are able to flag content in bulk to us, and their accuracy rate is around 80%, which is a very high degree of accuracy compared with lower rates in the community more broadly."[48]


"CTIRU have developed and are updating a list of URLs that are hosted abroad and which it is assessed the distribution or hosting of which would (in the absence of any statutory defence) give rise to criminal liability under the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2006. All material filtered from the public estate is therefore considered to be illegal under the Terrorism Act 2006, as assessed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS),.[49]"
"There is no formal appeal process but if there is concern regarding the filtering of a specific URL containing illegal material, contact should be made with Home Office."

ISP filters

The December 2013 report of the Prime Minister's Extremism task force[50] said that it would "work with internet companies to restrict access to terrorist material online which is hosted overseas but illegal under UK law" and "work with the internet industry to help them in their continuing efforts to identify extremist content to include in family- friendly filters" which would likely involve lobbying ISPs to add the CTIRU list to their filters without the need for additional legislation.

In November 2014 it was announced that [51] BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media would incorporate the CTIRU blocklist into their filters.

Nominet domain suspensions

CTIRU is allowed by Nominet to make domain suspension requests. They have so far made one request, according to Nominet’s annual report statistics.


In May 2017 a Home Affairs Committee report [52] recommended that social media companies (such as Google) should required to contribute to the funding of CTIRU.

Freedom of Information

A request to the Home Office for details of sites taken down was rejected in 2010[53] since ACPO is a private company and not subject to FOIA requests prior to November 2011.

Questions in parliament regarding the budget and workforce size have been rejected on national security grounds.[54] In 2017 Sarah Newton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, claimed that a breakdown of the statistics by the service provider could not be given due to "disproportionate cost"[55] indicating that CTIRU does not use computers to store their results.

Starting in 2017 Twitter provides a combined figure for all government TOS reports, 716, relating to 5,929 accounts, world-wide for the 2016 Q3+Q4.[56] For the period 376,890 accounts were suspended for promotion of terrorism

See also

External links


  1. CONTEST, UK strategy for countering terrorism: annual report for 2015, GOV.UK, 2016-07-21 "social media providers removed over 55,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material"
  2. Hansard, 2015-03-03 - "Since its creation in 2010, CTIRU has secured the removal of more than 75,000 pieces of terrorist and extremist content."
  3. Hansard, 2015-03-03
  4. Hansard, 2015-06-11 - "The counter-terrorism internet referral unit has been, and is now, taking down about 1,000 pieces of terrorist material per week from the internet."
  5. Hansard, 2013-09-23 - "Figures for April 2012 to March 2013 stand at 3,538 pieces of online content removed."
  6. Hansard, 2013-06-26 "Since its establishment in 2010, this unit has removed approximately 6,000 pieces of online terrorist content."
  7. Hansard, 2013-09-23 - "Since the CTIRU was established in February 2010, approximately 6,500 pieces of online content have been removed to date through CTIRU action."
  8. Hansard, 2013-12-12 - "To date ... has removed more than 18,000 pieces of illegal material."
  9. Hansard, 2014-03-10 - "since 2010, it has removed more than 26,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material online"
  10. Hansard, 2014-04-02 - "has taken down more than 29,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material from the internet"
  11. Hansard, 2014-06-19 - "has taken down 34,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content which encourage or glorify acts of terrorism, of which 15,000 have come down since the extremism taskforce concluded in 2013."
  12. Hansard, 2014-07-07 - "has now taken down 40,000 items from the web"
  13. Hansard, 2014-07-30 - "21,000 pieces [since December 2013]"
  14. Hansard, 2014-10-24 - " since December 2013 we have removed from the internet over 32,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content, taking the overall total to over 51,000 since 2010"
  15. Hansard, 2014-10-13 "Since 2013, over 32,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content have been removed from the internet."
  16. Home Secretary Theresa May on counter-terrorism, GOV.UK, 2014-11-24 - "Since the start of this government, the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has secured the removal of 65,000 items from the internet that encouraged or glorified acts of terrorism. More than 46,000 of these have been removed since December last year."
  17. Hansard, 2015-01-21 - "It has taken down 72,000 individual items since it was established in 2010"
  18. Hansard, 2016-03-17 "compared with 46,000 in 2014"
  19. Hansard, 2015-03-03 - " Since its creation in 2010, CTIRU has secured the removal of more than 75,000 pieces of terrorist and extremist content."
  20. Hansard, 2015-03-25 - "since February 2010 has secured the removal of more than 80,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content"
  21. Hansard, 2015-06-09 - "Since 2010, over 90,000 pieces of terrorist-related material have been removed at the request of the dedicated Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit."
  22. Hansard, 2015-07-07 - "Since 2010, over 95,000 pieces of terrorist-related material have been removed at the request of the dedicated Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit."
  23. Hansard, 2015-09-14 - "Since 2010, over 100,000 pieces..."
  24. Hansard, 2015-12-02 - "Since February 2010, the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has taken down more than 120,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content online."
  25. Hansard, 2015-02-29 "Since 2010 over 140,000 pieces of terrorist-related material have been removed by industry from various online platforms at the request of the dedicated police Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit"
  26. Hansard, 2016-03-17 "social media providers removed 58,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material in 2015"
  27. CONTEST, UK strategy for countering terrorism: annual report for 2015, GOV.UK, 2017-06-21 "social media providers removed over 55,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material in 2015"
  28. Hansard, 2016-03-17 "have led to over 150,000 pieces of terrorist-related material being removed to date"
  29. Hansard, 2016-05-04 "have led to over 160,000 pieces of terrorist-related content being removed to date world-wide, including websites, user accounts and videos."
  30. Hansard, 2016-07-12 "Since February 2010, CTIRU has secured the removal of more than 190,000 pieces of online terrorist-related content.
  31. Hansard, 2016-09-08 "HMG has developed strong collaborative relationships with Communications Service Providers (CSPs) which has led to the voluntary removal of over 200,000 pieces of terrorist-related content via referrals from the police Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) since 2010."
  32. Hansard, 2016-10-31 "Since February 2010, internet companies have removed 220,000 pieces"
  33. Hansard, 2017-01-23, "Since it was established in 2010, over 250,000 pieces of terrorist-related material, including websites, have been removed following CTIRU referrals."
  34. Twitter, 2017-01-30 "UK’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit removed 121,151 pieces of material from the internet by 21 December 2016 - 4x as many as 2015"
  35. Hansard, 2017-03-06 "In 2016 ... secured the removal of more than 120,000 pieces of terrorist-related content."
  36. Hansard 2017-06-28
  37. Hansard 2017-07-04
  38. Hansard 2017-11-01
  39. Hansard 2017-12-07
  40. Hansard, 2014-04-02
  41. Hansard, 2016-02-29
  42. Hansard, 2016-05-04
  43. Hansard, 2016-05-24
  44. Hansard, 2017-11-01
  45. Online radicalisation, GOV.UK, 2015-11-26
  46. Hansard 2016-03-17
  47. Hansard 2017-04-21
  48. Oral evidence: Hate Crime and its Violent Consequences, HC 609 Q410, 2017-04-14
  49. FOI #160774, 2013-06-28, Home Office
  50. Tackling extremism in the UK: report by the Extremism Taskforce, GOV.UK, 2013-12-04
  51. UK ISPs to introduce jihadi and terror content reporting button, Guardian, 2014-11-14
  52. Hate crime: abuse, hate and extremism online, 2017-05-01, "We believe that the Government should now consult on adopting similar principles online—for example, requiring social media companies to contribute to the Metropolitan Police’s CTIRU for the costs of enforcement activities which should rightfully be carried out by the companies themselves."
  53. Number of websites taken down by Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU), 2010-06-14
  54. Hansard, 2015-03-17 "For reasons of national security we do not publically disclose the detailed allocation of funding for counter terrorism by capability."
  55. Hansard, 2017-03-23
  56. Government TOS reports