Monday, February 8, 2010

UK vs Terrorist Web Pages

Thanks to a tweet by HSPI I found the “Reporting Terrorist Material Online” web page posted by the British Government that calls for the assistance of the British public in shutting down inappropriate terrorist web sites. This is an attempt by the Brits to shut down the online spread of the radical-Jihadist message that helps provide for the radicalization of individual Muslims that may become lone-wolf terrorists. The website makes the distinction between illegal (under British law) and offensive web sites. The site provides a definition of what constitutes an illegal website and a link to a page for reporting such sites. It also gives instructions for what to do if an individual finds a legal site to be offensive. This includes recommending that the individual contact the web site administrator or the website hosting company to register their complaint. The description of what would be considered an illegal web site is broad enough so that it is almost certain that some legal web sites would be included in those reported by the public. I think that it would be safe to assume that the British intelligence folks would like to use this as a method to identify new web sites for them to monitor as part of their counter-terrorism intelligence collection plan. The inclusion of the listing of techniques to get rid of legal, but offensive web sites is an interesting technique. It provides a way of extending the assault on ‘terrorist’ web pages while minimizing the potential for charges of censorship against the government. If it is the private sector that is taking down the offensive site it cannot be considered government censorship. I am not sure that the US Government could pursue a similar method of attacking Jihadist web sites. I am not aware of specific legislation similar to what the Brits have (the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Terrorism Act 2006) that would specifically outlaw terrorist web sites. Even the suggestions for private actions against offensive web sites would probably be attacked in the US as an impermissible government interference with free speech. Intelligence agencies, however, have a legitimate right to monitor anti-government rhetoric publicly posted on the internet. Conversations that take place in public chatrooms provide no expectation of privacy that would protect the speech from surreptitious monitoring by such agencies. Similarly, publicly posted web sites are available for all to see, so no one could reasonably object to intelligence agencies monitoring the information on such sites. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to provide the web surfing public in the United States with a mechanism for reporting violent Jihadist web sites that they encounter during their electronic travels. While one would suspect that most sites reported would already have been identified by intelligence agencies, this would provide another mechanism for identifying new web sites that crop up.

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