Controversial disinformation unit focused on ‘foreign states, election risks and deepfakes’

In light of continued parliamentary questions about the much criticised and recently renamed National Security Information Team, ministers have shed some light on the unit’s biggest areas of interest

Government’s controversial anti-disinformation unit is focusing its efforts on threats posed by hostile states, online deepfakes and the potential undermining of democratic processes.

Formerly known as the Counter Disinformation Unit, the recently rechristened National Security Online Information Team (NSOIT) is based in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Having been created in the early days of the Covid pandemic, the unit has long been a source of criticism and controversy, including allegations of opacity and overreach from various MPs that have claimed their online activity has been monitored by the unit.

The rebranding of the operation earlier this year has prompted a new flurry of parliamentary questions seeking to obtain more detail about NSOIT’s scale, scope and objectives.

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Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy last week asked DSIT ministers “which topics [are] approved for sustained monitoring” by the anti-disinformation operation.

In response, tech and digital economy minister Saqib Bhatti indicated that the unit is particularly interested in examining the dangers created by hostile nation states and artificial intelligence technology – and, in particular, the impact of the UK’s democratic systems.

“NSOIT’s remit and function is to tackle the greatest national security risks facing the UK from mis and disinformation,” he said. “It is specifically tasked with looking at threats posed by foreign states, risks to elections and understanding how AI and deepfakes can be used by hostile actors to spread mis and disinformation narratives which are aimed at UK audiences. This remit is kept under regular review.”

Sam Trendall

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