Free Speech

Zoom's Refusal to Host Events That Include Terrorist Group Leader Leila Khaled

Prof. Steven Lubet (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law) has an excellent analysis.


I was meaning to blog about this, but Prof. Lubet's Faculty Lounge post captures the matter quite well: It appears that Zoom has serious reason to think that allowing such events would be a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, which bars providing "communications equipment" (among other assistance) to designated foreign terrorist groups. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is one such group, and Khaled is—or at least was, as of December 2017—on its steering committee (the "political bureau").

Lubet has more, both as to the PLFP and as to the possible overbreadth of the statute (which was upheld, as applied to a similar but somewhat different situation, in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010)); read the whole whole post, but here's his bottom line as to Zoom's role:

[E]nterprises such as Zoom and YouTube are not in a position … [to] discount [Khaled's] leadership role in the PFLP …. [L]ike it or not, U.S. law makes it a crime to provide communication support to designated foreign terrorist organizations…. [T]he leading U.S. Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, held, in a 6-3 majority opinion, that the material support statute may indeed apply to "advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization," a muddled standard that could plausibly include a presentation by a member of the PFLP'S Political Bureau.

UPDATE: I've seen some material online (e.g., this BuzzFeed story) that claims that Zoom is refusing to host some programs simply because they criticize Zoom's decision on this.  But according to thes Zoom statement quoted here, they are only blocking events where it appears to them that Khaled will be "join[ing]" (in the sense of appearing). It's possible that there was factual confusion there, with Zoom trying to avoid possible criminal liability for having events where a foreign terrorist organization leader appears, but misunderstanding whether that's factually so as to particular events.

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  1. [T]he leading U.S. Supreme Court case, Holder[] v. Humanitarian Law Project, held, in a 6-3 majority opinion, that the material support statute may indeed apply to “advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization,”

    Any support? That seems very broad and almost certainly wrong, I think Breyer’s dissent is probably right here.

    1. Any material support.

      Here’s the big issue. Money is fungible.

      Take an organization, Al Queda for example. They have several different operations going on…Terrorists strike organization, Recruiting, Advocacy, etc. And the money to fund that is all ultimately coming out of the same budget.

      Now take “Goody two-shoes organization”. They want to help out by doing peaceful advocacy for Al Queda. Al Queda says “sure”, and the money they’d previously allocated to Advocacy they redirect towards recruiting and terrorist strike organizations.

      That’s the issue

      1. That’s one side of the issue. On the other, this rule as written means that a designated group can’t obtain either advice or representation from an attorney in the US. Thus, no due process even for members or affiliated groups that are US citizens. That should be allowed.

        1. I think representation for a member under criminal arrest would be allowed.

          1. AL,
            You think people should not have a legal right to consult with an attorney, just to get legal advice, absent those who have been arrested?!? I take it you are making an argument about what you think the law should be, and not what the law currently is, yes?

            1. So, there are three key factors in the law about Foreign Terrorist Organizations
              1. Foreign (IE, not under US authority, not domestic)
              2. Terrorist (self explanatory)
              3. Organizations (IE, not individuals).

              And yes. These foreign terrorist organizations should not have a legal “right” to consult with an American attorney. If Al Queda calls up and asks you for some legal advice on how they can legally get some Al Queda operatives into the US, that would constitute material support. It is illegal. It should be illegal.

              Do you disagree with that?

    2. I was on the legal team that represented the Humanitarian Law Project in that case. It just shows you how hard it is to win a case when the government screams “terrorism”.

      1. Well, when you hijack airliners for political gain…. What do you want to call them?

        1. Mostly peaceful.

          1. “We were peaceful right up until we hijacked your plane by force, so “Mostly peaceful”

      2. All lawyers are traitors to our country. The hierarchy of this criminal cult enterprise should be arrested, tried an hour, and put in federal prison for 10 years.

  2. What would you have her do, hijack a plane and fly to the meeting?

    1. The US probably wouldn’t let her in…

      1. 2 week quarantine

      2. As a terrorist, she would not be admitted to Jordan, Egypt, or Israel to use their airports. No Arab state wants her bullshit. Israel would have her finish her (life) prison sentence.

        And the Terrorist Authority doesn’t have an airport, because they spend millions of dollars each year doing terrorist shit.

        She’s stuck, unless she can grow wings.

  3. So now Zoom want to be the app to help whiteys masturbate?? No thanks!! I will use Microsoft Teams!

    disclosure: I have a large stake in Microsoft stock. 😉

  4. I don’t see how one can stretch “material support” to include use of internet services like these. If instead she phones in will Verizon be on the hook for providing material support to terrorism? What if she uses short-wave radio? Are we going to prosecute the ionosphere?

    Perhaps, just like in a conspiracy, there needs to be an affirmative act to charge material support. If Zoom knowingly provisions services to Khaled, that’s different (and possibly illegal) than Khaled using existing services without Zoom’s intervention.

    1. Perhaps Zoom merely saw claiming legal peril as a convenient excuse? To do something they wanted to do, but which might piss people off in the circles they run in?

      1. I don’t think Zoom particularly cared, until a third party pointed out they would be hosting a terrorist and in violation of the law.

        Once Zoom’s legal department saw that, they decided it was not worth any such risk.

      2. Zoom has been totally happy to block accounts/events at the request of the Chinese government; it should be no surprise to anyone that they’re not willing to push back on requirements from the US government either.

        (I say this without trying to imply that any of the above is bad, just to note that they’ve never pretended to be any sort of free speech platform.)

    2. How about the utilities that provide power and water?

    3. The way the law is worded, it prohibits “knowingly” providing material support.

      Once Zoom is informed that it is providing services to a terrorist organization, then they know. If they continue to provide services, then they are in (potential) violation of the law. In this case, Zoom was informed by a third party that it would be hosting a terrorist organization.

      If Zoom never knew, that would be different, as you point out. But that wasn’t the case here.

    4. To answer your question about phones…

      If the government calls the phone company and says “This organization and these people are terrorist organizations, we are telling you to cancel their services”, then yes, the phone company can (and should) cancel their services. That phone service counts as material support that helps the terrorist organization plan, communicate, and organize.

  5. It is funny how Zoom will scream “the government made me do it” when censoring a Muslim terrorst-extremist. But Big Tech has no problem censoring others by saying “oh Terms of Service, private entity, etc.” I would think (hopefully) bona-fide terrorsts would fall into the same Terms of Service denial bucket. That is unless those Big Tech orgs are just exercising viewpoint discrimination which they claim they are not doing, but it seems obvious to most is exactly what they are doing.

    1. You know different companies are different, right? What Zoom does and what Facebook or Twitter do actually have nothing to do with each other.

  6. Isn’t Zoom a Chinese company? I have the impression they already block groups that are on China’s bad-guy list, including dissidents.

    That would also seem to exempt them from our list, at least if they provide their services from China.

    1. They block them in China, not elsewhere. Zoom is run by Eric Yuan, who is from China but lives in the United States.

      There was some controversy a whole back when they started to block anti-China material everywhere, before (they claim) they had the capability to actually have location specific blocking. As far as I can tell, they resolved those issues.

      1. According to Wikipedia, Yuan has been a U.S. citizen since 2007, 10 years after he arrived in the U.S. Forbes likewise reports that he’s a U.S. citizen. So Zoom is as little a Chinese company as this is a Russian blog (or a Soviet blog, if you prefer).

        1. Idk, seems a little fishy to me. Perhaps we should call the folks behind the Steele dossier and see what they have to say about such Russian interference 🙂

  7. Isn’t Zoom a Chinese company?


    1. Eh, the owners aren’t currently “Chinese”, but I believe they have relatives in China. That’s enough to give China leverage.

      Not so long ago it was discovered that Zoom was routing a lot of meets through servers in China. They blew it off as a “mistake”. Then that conversations outside China were getting encryption keys generated/stored in China.

      My default assumption is that they’re being forced to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services. They seem to be making a lot of “mistakes” that are convenient to them.

  8. Some fallout: Zoom Deleted Events Discussing Zoom “Censorship”

    Zoom seems a bit thin skinned.

    I think the market is ripe for an online meeting utility that’s designed to prevent censorship, perhaps by operating in a distributed fashion without centralized servers.

    1. Maybe the folks at Signal will take up the baton.

    2. These already exist, but they’re otherwise not as good. Most people care more about overall capabilities and not the anti-censorship angle, so they’re not very popular.

      1. The more the censorship spreads, the more people will be interested in a censorship free platform. The problem with censorship free platforms, though, is that the nature of the early adopters makes it easy to smear them as something else.

    3. Buzzfeed isn’t news. And it tends to promote its ideas with other websites, to amplify their nonsense until it appears they’re telling truth. But it’s all self-referential junk.

  9. According to this Zoom statement, they are only blocking events where it appears to them that Khaled will be “join[ing]” (in the sense of appearing), though the BuzzFeed story claims that some of the blocked events did not include an appearance by Khaled. (It’s possible that there was factual confusion there, with Zoom trying to avoid possible criminal liability for having events where a foreign terrorist organization leader appears, but misunderstanding whether that’s factually so as to particular events.)

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