Obama Official: 'Citizens' in Raqqa Have 'Right' to Use the Internet

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa / Reuters
June 23, 2016

A U.S. defense official said that "citizens" in the ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria have a "right" to use the Internet despite terrorists in the city using the web for command, control, and recruitment activities.

Thomas Atkin, acting assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, told a House committee Wednesday that cutting off the Internet would have a negative impact because of the militant group’s reliance on civilian infrastructure, Breaking Defense reported.

"Certainly going after specific nodes to hamper and stop the use of the Internet by ISIS is important, but we also have to respect the privileges and rights of citizens to have access to the Internet as a whole and as a country," Atkin testified before the House Armed Services Committee.

"It’s a careful balance, even in Raqqa … on how we balance the needs, or the rights, to have access to the Internet versus the use of the Internet illegally by folks like ISIL," he added, using a different acronym for ISIS.

Atkin was responding to questions about why militants were still online in Raqqa, where ISIS often directs attacks against Americans.

Obama administration policy constrains cyber operations to the same laws as armed combat, according to Breaking Defense.

Atkin testified that shutting down the Internet would cut off access for "legitimate" civilians in Raqqa.

"How that effect occurs has greater impact than just against the adversary and we have to weigh that in to all our operations," he said, "whether that’s a kinetic or a cyber operation."

He deferred further questions to a classified meeting with lawmakers Wednesday afternoon.