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Terrorism and the web: free speech vs. "bad" speech


Sunday, August 7, 2005


Jon Lebkowsky says,

Not long ago, CNN's Miles O'Brien tossed off a comment implying that where Al Qaeda is concerned, the Internet may be the problem. Today the Washington post is running a longer piece (requires free registration) that says:
"al Qaeda has become the first guerrilla movement in history to migrate from physical space to cyberspace. With laptops and DVDs, in secret hideouts and at neighborhood Internet cafes, young code-writing jihadists have sought to replicate the training, communication, planning and preaching facilities they lost in Afghanistan with countless new locations on the Internet."

According to the article, "the Web's shapeless disregard for national boundaries and ethnic markers fits exactly with bin Laden's original vision for al Qaeda," and that the Internet is increasingly used tactically, "especially for training new adherents," quoting Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a group that monitors and tracks the jihadist Internet sites.

We should be attentive to the story between the lines here: if people use the Internet to do terrible things, what should we do? That question's come up more than once since access to the Internet started spreading in the early '90s, often from people and organizations who, on the scale balancing openness and freedom with social control, put their thumb heavily on the social control side, The world would be so much simpler and safer if we had more restrictions, they think, though there's never been much evidence to suggest that this is the case.

Consider a substitution: if people use free speech to do terrible things, what should we do?

Link to Jon's post, and here's the WaPo article: Terrorists Move Operations to Cyberspace. Here's the opening graf:
In the snow-draped mountains near Jalalabad in November 2001, as the Taliban collapsed and al Qaeda lost its Afghan sanctuary, Osama bin Laden biographer Hamid Mir watched "every second al Qaeda member carrying a laptop computer along with a Kalashnikov" as they prepared to scatter into hiding and exile. On the screens were photographs of Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.
This is a bit beside the point, but -- I wonder what OS they're running? I'm not trying to insert a gag here, it's an open question.