Censoring The Internet Won’t Stop Terrorism

    December 9, 2012
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

Terrorists are on the Internet. It’s just a fact. Just like you and I, members of radical fringe groups use the Internet to communicate ideas and spread information. It’s hard to combat the message when it’s online due to the nature of the Internet, but some countries have proposed methods that outright censor anything that remotely looks like terrorism. A new report argues that such censorship methods won’t accomplish a thing.

Do you think terrorism is a problem on the Internet? What should governments do to stop it? Let us know in the comments.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington D.C., issued a report on Wednesday called “Countering Online Radicalization in America.” The report issues a number of suggestions to lawmakers on how to curb the rise in terrorism online and off. The report features a number of common sense strategies that actually make a lot of sense.

The BPC outlines it strategy in three sections – Reducing the supply, reducing the demand and exploiting cyberspace. The first, reducing the supply, says that current approaches to reducing radical content on the Internet is “neither feasible or desirable.” The group also says offers some basic recommendations on how to cut down on violent rhetoric:

Government should refrain from establishing nationwide filtering systems.

Government needs to retain its capability for aggressive takedowns of foreign-based websites but only use it when doing so is absolutely essential to stop a terrorist attack and/or prevent the loss of life.

The circumstances and legal framework governing the use of cyber-attacks need to be clarified.

Prosecutions against violent extremist Internet entrepreneurs need to weigh the chances of success against the unintended consequence of drawing attention to their ideas and propaganda.

Government should accelerate the establishment of informal partnerships to assist large Internet companies in understanding national security threats as well as trends and patterns in terrorist propaganda and communication.

Most of this is really good stuff. The last recommendation is the only one that raises some concern as the government has already tried it with CISPA. The bill contained too many privacy implications, however, for it to be a worthwhile cause. The establishment of informal partnerships is a far more desirable outcome.

The second section, reducing the demand, goes with the idea that the Internet is a virtual “marketplace of ideas.” The thinking here is that governments and others can establish positive speech that will drown out any potential terroristic or radical speech that pops up online. The recommendations are as follows:

Government, in partnership with community groups, needs to continue to expand programs and initiatives that create awareness and spread information about online radicalization among educators, parents, and communities.

Government should serve as an enabler, bringing together the private sector, foundations, philanthropists, and community groups to build capacity and to help potentially credible messengers—such as mainstream groups, victims of terrorism, and other stakeholders—to become more effective at conveying their messages. The forthcoming Internet strategy should spell out what the government will do and how success will be measured.

The government’s Internet strategy also needs to make clear what part of government will coordinate capacity building, engagement, and outreach efforts as well as what resources will be made available to support this task.

The government should encourage school authorities to review and update their curricula on media literacy, consider violent extremism as part of their instruction on child-safety issues, and develop relevant training resources for teachers.

Again, some of these suggestions could easily lead into government overreach, but a lot of it is pretty good. The last recommendation is especially relevant when children are being brought up on the Internet, but many of them are not being taught basic media literacy to tell the difference between radical extremism dressed up in colorful kid friendly art and an actual kid friendly site.

The final section, exploiting cyberspace, is by far the most interesting. The report recommends that the US government not actively remove terrorists from the Internet, but rather use the Internet against them. The fact that these groups use the Internet opens up them up to exploitation on a massive scale that could potentially feed mountains of information to intelligence agencies on future plans, movement patterns and other identifying markers.

That being said, the BPC gives the following recommendations on how to best gather data without affecting civilians:

Government needs to review oversight procedures and clarify the legal framework under which domestic agencies are permitted to monitor, save, and analyze online communications.

Government should increase the amount of online training offered to members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including state and local agencies.

Given the rapidly changing nature of the online environment, government needs to periodically review the scope, sophistication, and appropriateness of the regulatory framework that governs data gathering and analysis in cyberspace, as well as the technological tools and capabilities that are used for doing so.

What do you think of the BPC’s recommendations? Should the US be fighting fire with fire, so to speak, when dealing with terrorists online? Let us know in the comments.

All in all, the BPC’s report is easily the best Internet-related legislative recommendation to come out of Washington this year. It’s comprehensive, easy to understand and goes against the current trend of government agencies asking for more surveillance powers when such simple solutions would work just as well.

Although the report is aimed at US lawmakers, delegates from around the world at this week’s ITU conference would be wise to take heed of these recommendations. Giving control of the Internet to a bunch of bureaucrats and letting them decide what should and should not be on the Internet isn’t going to magically rid the Internet of terrorism. Engaging these voices and exposing them as the hateful groups they are will align the public against them more strongly than a simple ban or erasure ever would.

Members of Congress will likely bring more cybersecurity legislation to the table in 2013. It will be interesting to see if any of the recommendations from this report makes into any of the proposed bills. There are easy and effective ways to counter terrorism online, and you don’t have to censor the Internet or invade citizens’ privacy to do it.

Can online terrorism be thwarted without making drastic changes to the Internet? Or must these drastic changes take place to protect others? Let us know in the comments.

  • Jacob

    I certainly don’t think that censorship will solve the issues that congress seems to hope it will, and I never have believed it either. It’s great to see an official report lending credibility to my opinion, but hopefully congress will take this into account before attempting to implement any more extreme internet policies.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    We have the same proposals going through the UK parliament too, but in the UK the Tory government wants to set up a vast database containing the details of every person, their internet use, their phone calls, emails, text messages, search history, purchases, site memberships… Imagine what the KGB did, and then apply that to every single innocent citizen in the country, with infinite information gathered and stored daily, able to be collated and searched quickly, accessed by law enforcement (something that is seemingly vastly corrupt in the UK given the phone hacking scandals).

    What no one is considering is that criminals already use encryption, VPN, and they stay below the radar. When was the last time any of us ever saw something we deemed to be a threat? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m working on the net for 12 hours a day 7 days a week, and have done for two years – I have never seen anything I thought was a real potential threat.

    Even with these new measures, anyone who wants to communicate anonymously can, and no cracking system can break it. If I give someone a novel, and I have a copy too, I can send them a message in the following format – 56, 3, 15, 38, 49, 17 (page, line, word) – and no agency can crack that without the reference novel.

    This alone proves to me that such monitoring measures are not intended to combat real crime and terrorism. The only explanation I can find is that they’ll be used to prevent organized protest and genuine political activism – which requires open communication with an audience.

    It’s no coincidence that all governments are trying to rush these measures through with scaremongering just as protest against cuts and austerity are growing. We are expected to see the financial crisis deepen, and our governments know that they are very close to having their own Tahrir Square in London and Washington.

    Given all the debates, the discussions, the evidence and the facts, I am convinced that the only reason our governments are choosing to do this is to restrict and control the innocent people of our countries who are increasingly angry at the failures of our governments to hold to account those responsible for the economic crisis we are in.

    This is not about terrorism and crime, this is about our governments working to prevent the people from removing them from office when the € collapses and takes most other fiat currencies with it.

    • http://www.bombnail.com Ross

      You are 100% Correct!

  • http://www.bombnail.com Ross

    Its about the governments protecting themselves from the billions of economic slaves to their system, they want global control over all forms of media as they have in main stream media, newspapers, the 6 o’clock news and so on, they don’t want us forming online groups, accessing sensitive information, learning truths of their systems corruption, the facts of clean free energy, everything we love about the internet.

    Filtering terrorism is just something they tell you and most don’t have the intelligence to see the real reasons behind this Internet filter threat, The USA are the real terrorists, they profit and protect the Afghanistan Poppie fields for heroin production, they create wars to stimulate their economy…They are the ones continually invading other countries! why don’t they just stay on their own land? you all need to wake up and look further into this internet terrorism filter.. If this happens they will have the ultimate control on what you read online, in other words, kept in the dark and fed the information they want you to believe…. I could write a book on this.

    • Janet

      Ross, you said it better than I ever could. Wake up people! These “recommendations” have nothing to do with protecting us from terrorism.

  • john

    As and when this comes to pass, it will be a crime to object to the gov’t will, unless said objection is done by permission of the gov’t. Are we sure this is what we want?

  • stillalive

    Hi all,
    where to report this article?

  • Lies, lies, and more lies

    Government is perpetration a scam of control by big business/govt, and money. Use TOR network = online anonymity; and plenty of other systems like VPN. This has nothing to do with terrorism people!!! Besides, I’ve never seem an online threat.

  • Lies, lies, and more lies

    Free speech is threatened people, globally.

  • http://www.bikebackcountry.com cliff Krolick

    It’s only a matter of time till some of the the morons running politics get their nasty way. Hopefully by the time that may occur there may be greater problems(climate) in everyones faces.

  • A C Quinn

    There are two Facts, Facts being reality and stuff you can check: Fact 1 99% now that is high, 99% of all censored items by the US government, were items about the US government or NATO, in short Dictatorship rule, so there has been no free speech against the government for some 15 years except that which fit the looney fringe, so they appear to allow free speech, but only the garbage. Fact 2. if you tell everyone or force everyone to hide what they are doing, then how do you catch people you hid from yourself? The idea is stupid, converts are those easily led and that is also a fact, those who are easily led are usually easily caught of left to mouth off in the open. Safety is a visible enemy, not we shut down all the chatter then there were mushrooms in the sky because we shut down all the chatter, wake up you complete morons.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    This is to censor us the citizens and for the government to have greater control over our privacy.

    Its all about perspective right. Think Starship troopers and us actually been the aggressive enemy. See Ross’s post.

    Your link above points to a democratically voted Government.

  • Harris

    Terrorism filtering is just another b^llsh!t from our government to protect their own office. I doesn’t make sense.

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Danny

    We have the same thing happening out my way in Australia.

    Not only regarding filters, there are also a number “extra powers” being put forth for Government agencies, police, etc…

    We have been told that it’s related to anti terrorism, and I think there was also mention of cyber crime, etc…

    We have already heard that Police were granted “extra powers” to tap phones on citizens. There is wide believe that this has happened not only to suspected criminals, but also to people whom did not warrant any need to have their (home)phones tapped…

    Even a public phone up the road from where I live, was said to have been tapped…

    So, in order to listen to one suspects public phone calls they would have been also listening in on hundreds(could be more) of innocent people who were not under any investigation…..

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Nina

    Let government of nations do whatever they can to track down terrorists. If censoring the internet will help them to get to the terrorists before they implement their plans so be.

  • Watching the Wheels

    Let the governments censure what they want.

    Why would anyone with an iota of intelligence plaster that sort of crap across such a publicly scrutable medium?

    And for people who are willingly becoming “tools” within the power struggle currently being waged between the various govrnments and the wanna be lords of cyberland. Let them have at it, too. The Cyber overlords are making way, too much money, and the power has gone to their heads. I don’t want the likes of Zuckerberg calling ANY of my shots. SIMPLE.

    I personally would like to see some sort of accountabilty within this medium. It’s a little bit too easy to spew venom, while sitting anonymously at a desk, in front of a computer screen and keyboard.

    Governmental officials, at least have the decency to be physically accessable, and thus have placed themselves closer to the actual line of fire if things do indeed go south. I can respect that.

    The power brokers who hide behind computer screens? I think not. Strikes me as being cowardly. I don’t want a coward “to have my back”.

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  • http://twitter.com/miksas Maikeru Sazushima

    I hope my country’s legislators read this… Our Cybercrime Prevention Bill of 2011 is a thinly-veiled internet censorship law… keep the Internet Free and Open, worldwide!!

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