United Kingdom

If You're Reading This, You're (Probably) a Terrorist

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You're in the latest hot spot in the war on terror.

computer terrorism

A new report from the UK Home Affairs Committee claims the Internet is the "main forum for radicalisation" for terrorists and right-wing extremists. Even more than prisons, universities, and places of worship, "the internet does seem to feature in most, if not all, of the routes of radicalisation." The Home Office describes how people are radicalized by this series of tubes:

The internet "plays a role in terms of sustaining and reinforcing terrorist ideological messages and enabling individuals to find and communicate with like-minded individuals and groups."

Of course, that's true with any political or religious viewpoint. Just replace the word "terrorist" with conservative/libertarian/progressive/evangelical/atheist, etc. and you've basically described the entire Internet and its appeal. Congrats.

Loz Kaye, leader of the UK Pirate Party, tweeted his disappointment with the Committee's report:

Violence is born of too little information, not too much. We need a free functioning Internet if the aim is to engage.

But the fact that the Internet facilitates freedom of expression is troublesome for statists. The Home Affairs study also reports that the Internet is "now one of the few unregulated spaces where radicalisation is able to take place." Ergo, regulation. Right on cue, Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee (who has a long history of censorship), argues:

More resources need to be directed to these threats and to preventing radicalisation through the internet and in private spaces. These are the fertile breeding grounds for terrorism.

Because of this, the Home Affairs Committee wants Internet service providers (ISPs) to actively monitor and remove "extremist" content and websites, even without a court order. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, argues that content take-downs would be very ineffective, and, of course, Orwellian:

Very little can be done to take down websites that are extreme: because they are rarely hosted in the UK…The alternative to takedown is censorship, which is both ineffective and hands a propaganda victory to the targets of that censorship.

Obviously, defining terrorism and extremism can tricky. One darkly comic example was when the London police labeled the Occupy movement as terrorists and extremists, on par with al-Qaeda and FARC.

But the invocation of terrorism and right-wing extremism is really just the pretense for greater control of the Internet. Indeed, that very same Home Affairs report also notes:

Most radicalisation does not take place in fora at all; it takes place in private premises.

Not to mention that its findings:

…seemed to be contradicted by more recent Home Office-commissioned research, which concluded that the internet "does not appear to play a significant role in Al Qa'ida-influenced radicalisation." Even those witnesses who attributed a significant role to the internet tended to support that report's conclusion that some element of face-to-face contact was generally essential to radicalisation taking place, including with regards to the extreme far right…

Since al-Qaeda has been rendered "operationally ineffective," new scares are needed. Hence, the renewed focus on the far right and even links to "criminal gangs."

Reason on the Internet, terrorism, and censorship. Back in December 2011, Glenn Greenwald detailed a similar attempt by the Obama administration to control the Internet to eradicate the scourge of "Twitter terrorism."