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EU Anti- e-Terror Legislation

ThreatsWatch guest contributor Jeff Carr does an admirable job of addressing the myriad ways terrorist groups and their supporters leverage the Internet in Terror Web 2.0. Activities that support terrorism online are active and plentiful, but in a rush to combat such activities some supposed “leaders” are displaying incredible ignorance.

Case in point: European Union officials want to make it a criminal offense to post bomb making materials online. The focus of the legislation would be Internet Service Providers in the EU, who would be required to search and block any such material entering EU cyberspace. That cyberspace is global in nature is something that has escaped bureaucrats in Brussels.

The EU points to China – bastion of free speech and openness – and their efforts to build a ‘great firewall’ as the model they want to emulate, but apparently they have never heard of projects designed to defeat online censorship like Infranet or Hacktivismo. History drives the point home: the Mongols and the Manchus breached the physical wall then; people get around the digital great wall today.

Were such legislation to pass and European ISPs managed to identify legions of people who have posted bomb-making materials online: what are they going to do about it? Indict them? Extradite them? As Estonia discovered a few weeks ago, pinning the tail on the donkey isn’t the easiest game to play. Cyber crime in myriad forms is rampant but convicted cyber criminals are awfully hard to come by and cyber criminals that actually spend time in jail even rarer.

This effort is reminiscent of calls by a certain sect of the online terrorism investigators – all of whom do incredible work – for US ISPs and hosting companies to shut down terrorist Web sites hosted in the US. The cyber whack-a-mole strategy may provide immediate gratification, but in the long term it is self defeating. Make it too hard to operate in the US and they’ll move offshore. “Good” you say, except that now it is harder to monitor what they are doing and saying.

The long war is in many ways an intelligence war, and you don’t gather more and better intelligence by shutting off the data supply.