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October 18, 2006

Secretary Chertoff Says Web Could Aid Terrorism

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was quoted recently at a meeting of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police on the Internet's ability to radicalize home grown terrorists.  His concern is not misplaced.  The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, has been tracking hate groups for years.  One can easily take names from the voluminous list and track them via search engine for web site access.  As with many web sites, these aren't hiding from public view.  An even easier way to find hate groups on the web is the Hate Directory compiled by Raymond A. Franklin.  The PDF supplied on that site has clickable links.  The latest version of the document is some 146 pages long.  That's a lot of hate out there.

What is more troubling than the existence of these sites is the implications of a government response to the potential terror they can generate through radicalization.  These sites are allowed to exist if no other reason because of the First Amendment.  Hate, apparently, is constitutional.  Another element of this problem is that these sites exist on the Internet, which is not like other media.  There are nominal controls on the technical aspects of the Internet but practically no controls on the content, at least in the U.S. 

News Corp can buy MySpace and Google can buy YouTube, though that doesn't stop anyone with enough capital from creating the next social site.  This is in contrast, say, to hate as represented by the media as entertainment.  Hate groups set up shop to do damage and then Jack Bauer comes to the rescue.  Everything is in its context.  Hate groups are bad (and they are) and those possessing the indicia of good come in and set things right.  We also get to sell some tennis shoes, light trucks, and a few computer games in the process.  That's television.  Messages are no so easily controlled or editorialized on the Internet. 

The best the government is going to be able to do in these circumstances is monitor.  The first justification put forth for monitoring has been to protect children from online predators.  A worthy goal, definitely, but is it enough of a justification to track the vast majority of Internet users who neither abuse, molest, or do any other damage to children?  Now comes terrorism into the mix.  Again, the vast majority of people who use the web are not terrorists.  Will they want to expose allegedly private Internet use to the government just to be less afraid?  Watch for legislation to be introduced in the next congress that acts on the proposals from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for ISPs to keep detailed use logs on their users, all to aid law enforcement investigations.  It's a shame that the government doesn't come up with proposals that do enough to fight child abuse and terrorism without punishing the rest of the Internet community.  Perhaps the next administration can do better in this regard.

October 18, 2006 | Permalink


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