After two U.S. women were charged this week with conspiring to build bombs in support of terrorist groups, a U.S. senator wants two publications that include bomb-making instructions deleted from the Internet.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, called for the 44-year-old Anarchist Cookbook and al-Qaeda's Inspire Magazine to be banished from the Web, notwithstanding the difficulty of removing material from the entire Internet or the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. It's not the first time that Feinstein has tried to ban publications that instruct would-be bomb-makers.
"I am particularly struck that the alleged bombers made use of online bomb-making guides like the Anarchist Cookbook and Inspire Magazine," Feinstein, a veteran member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "These documents are not, in my view, protected by the First Amendment and should be removed from the Internet."
Feinstein is wrong about the First Amendment, free speech advocates said.
"Technologically speaking, it's not really an achievable goal," said Lucy Dalglish, dean of the college of journalism at the University of Maryland. "You can't just erase the dang thing. It is still going to be out there."
Beyond the practical challenges, attempting to remove the publications from the Internet "would be a blatant violation of the First Amendment," she added. "That's the price we pay for a free society."
Critics of the Anarchist Cookbook, first published in 1971, have been trying to halt its publication for years, without success, noted Dalglish, a long-time free speech advocate. Some other countries do attempt to remove content, but "there's a word for that," she said. "It's called censorship."
Digital rights blog TechDirt ripped Feinstein for resurrecting her past efforts to ban these publications. "Politicians never leave an opportunity like this unexploited, and so in jumps Senator Dianne Feinstein, arguing that the only proper way to deal with this is to, of course ... censor the internet," TechDirt wrote.
In the mid-1990s, Feinstein proposed that the U.S. ban several publications about explosives, but the U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion saying a blanket ban would violate the First Amendment.
Feinstein recognizes that it would be difficult to remove the publications from the entire Internet, a spokesman for the senator said. "Removing every single copy of these documents may not be possible, but the goal would be to make it significantly harder for people to find these documents online," the spokesman said by email.
A 1997 law prohibits the teaching of bomb-making for criminal proposes, the spokesman noted.
Feinstein's proposal came after the DOJ on Thursday announced charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction for Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, two New York women.
The two women allegedly have expressed support for al-Qaeda and had planned to build bombs to detonate in the U.S. The criminal complaint noted, however, that an FBI undercover agent pointed the two defendants to the Anarchist Cookbook.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.