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Internet Thought Control Bill Under Fire

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Internet Thought Control Bill Under Fire

House Committee Dismisses Criticisms of
Internet Thought Control Bill - H.R. 1995

By Michael Collins
Washington, D.C.

Part 2 (Part 1)

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On Monday, Dec. 17, the House Committee on Homeland Security posted this document in response to the many criticisms of House Resolution 1955, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. Part 1 of this series examined the dangers that this bill posed to citizens and political groups using the Internet.

Based on the bill contents and the witnesses called to elaborate on the supposed problem of "homegrown terrorism," it appears that House bill and the Senate look alike (S.1959) pose a significant threat to political expression and free speech, particularly on the Internet (see Thought Control on the Internet and this collection for more detail).

H.R. 1955 passed by a 404-6 margin on Oct 23, 2007. On Nov. 6, 2007, the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment held a one hour plus hearing. Witnesses from "think tanks" elaborated on the need for the legislation. (Full video) Mark Weitzman was highly specific in portraying the Internet as a major source of violent radicalization. He showed slides of Internet web sites; he included some domestic political groups with very high visibility, and defined the threats as net-based communication and proselytizing. (Video of Weitzman testimony)

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Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL) wrote The Independent and said
he has no position on S. 1959 (the Senate equivalent of H.R.
1955). This followed The Independent's story that
his emails to constituents indicated support for the bill.

There was a huge reaction to this hearing by U.S. political groups across the political spectrum. The reaction was so strong that presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) revised his apparent position of support as indicated in emails to constituents. In a recent email to The Independent the candidate's staff said that "Senator Obama has not taken a position on S. 1959. Should the bill be considered by the Homeland Security Committee, he will carefully evaluate it, as he does with all pieces of legislation,"

Committee on Homeland Security Staff Issues Response

Rep. Harman's subcommittee hearings sparked the controversy surrounding this legislation. Yet the main committee staff issued the three page response, not the subcommittee staff. The use of the committee staff may indicate some serious damage control. The Internet is not the third rail of U.S. politics but its heading in that direction.

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On the first page of their response, the committee staff stated:

This legislation in no way restricts thought or speech. Both of these are legal activities that should be encouraged by all segments of our society and are welcomed in our system of open debate and dialogue. Radical thinking is not a crime and this legislation does not turn radical thinking into criminal behavior.

It's good to know that free thought and speech are still legal. However, there have been several extended periods in U.S. history where free thought and speech were seriously threatened. The most recent is the period dominated by McCarthyism from the late 1940's through the 1950's. The Smith Act (Alien Registration Act) of 1940 has a 20 year jail term for anyone who "prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays" information that would lead to the overthrow of the government. The McCarran Internal Security Act also enabled this period calling for "alien exclusion and deportation laws and allowing for the detention of dangerous, disloyal, or subversive persons in times of war or internal security emergency... "

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