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The Year in First Amendment Rights: National Security

James Tucker,
Washington Legislative Office
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January 4, 2008

Internet censorship also was spurred on under the false illusion of making us safer from terrorists. H.R. 1955, a bill creating a seemingly innocuous commission to study so-called “homegrown terrorism,” contained several troubling provisions. Instead of focusing on what everyone agrees should be targeted – criminal conduct like engaging in terrorist actions or intentionally aiding and abetting such conduct – the bill over-broadly targeted freedom of speech and freedom of belief. The bill defined violent radicalization as “the adoption or promotion of an extremist belief system.”

In the process, it ignored the incitement test in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which limits government censorship of speech except where there is imminent harm, it is likely to produce illegal action, and the speaker intends to cause that imminent illegality. Equally troubling, although the bill purported to disclaim racial profiling and censorship, its findings encouraged those activities.

The Internet was specifically identified as a source that needed to be restricted: “The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization… by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist related propaganda to U.S. citizens.” H.R. 1955 only passed the House and was not taken up by the Senate. We will continue to work with members on both sides of the Hill to ensure that “homegrown terrorism” and other national security measures are not used as an unconstitutional proxy for Internet censorship.

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