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Greenwald writes: "Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI has arrested dozens of young men in controversial counterterrorism stings. One recent case involved a rudderless 20-year-old in Cincinnati, Ohio, named Christopher Cornell, who mostlikely would not have stepped foot in Syria of his own accord."

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Dale Robbins/Moyers & Company)
Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Dale Robbins/Moyers & Company)

What's Scarier: Terrorism, or Governments Blocking Websites in Its Name?

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

17 March 15


he French Interior Ministry on Monday ordered that five websites be blocked on the grounds that they promote or advocate terrorism. “I do not want to see sites that could lead people to take up arms on the Internet,” proclaimed Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

When the block functions properly, visitors to those banned sites, rather than accessing the content of the sites they chose to visit, will be automatically redirected to the Interior Ministry website. There, they will be greeted by a graphic of a large red hand, and text informing them that they were attempting to access a site that causes or promotes terrorism: “you are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.”

No judge reviews the Interior Ministry’s decisions. The minister first requests that the website owner voluntarily remove the content he deems transgressive; upon disobedience, the minister unilaterally issues the order to Internet service providers for the sites to be blocked. This censorship power is vested pursuant to a law recently enacted in France empowering the interior minister to block websites.

Forcibly taking down websites deemed to be supportive of terrorism, or criminalizing speech deemed to “advocate” terrorism, is a major trend in both Europe and the West generally. Last month in Brussels, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator issued a memo proclaiming that “Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat,” and argued that increased state control over the Internet is crucial to combating it.

The memo noted that “the EU and its Member States have developed several initiatives related to countering radicalisation and terrorism on the Internet,” yet argued that more must be done. It argued that the focus should be on “working with the main players in the Internet industry [a]s the best way to limit the circulation of terrorist material online.” It specifically hailed the tactics of the U.K. Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU), which has succeeded in causing the removal of large amounts of material it deems “extremist”:

Internet data on regulated content. (photo: The Intercept)

Internet data on regulated content.
(photo: The Intercept)

In addition to recommending the dissemination of “counter-narratives” by governments, the memo also urged EU member states to “examine the legal and technical possibilities to remove illegal content.”

Exploiting terrorism fears to control speech has been a common practice in the West since 9/11, but it is becoming increasingly popular even in countries that have experienced exceedingly few attacks. A new extremist bill advocated by the right-wing Harper government in Canada (also supported by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau even as he recognizes its dangers) would create new crimes for “advocating terrorism”; specifically: “every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offenses in general” would be a guilty and can be sent to prison for five years for each offense.

In justifying the new proposal, the Canadian government admits that “under the current criminal law, it is [already] a crime to counsel or actively encourage others to commit a specific terrorism offense.” This new proposal is about criminalizing ideas and opinions. In the government’s words, it “prohibits the intentional advocacy or promotion of terrorism, knowing or reckless as to whether it would result in terrorism.”

There can be no doubt that such new criminal laws are specifically intended to ban ideas these governments dislike. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives lays out numerous ways that the law will allow the government to imprison people for the expression of political ideas:

The new offence will bring within its ambit all kinds of innocent speech, some of which no doubt lies at the core of freedom of expression values that the Charter was meant to protect. . . .Even if the government exercises restraint in laying charges and arresting people, the result is an inevitable chill on speech. Students will think twice before posting an article on Facebook questioning military action against insurgents overseas. Journalists will be wary of questioning government decisions to add groups to Canada’s list of terrorist entities.

If someone argues that continuous Western violence and interference in the Muslim world for decades justifies violence being returned to the West, or even advocates that governments arm various insurgents considered by some to be “terrorists,” such speech could easily be viewed as constituting a crime.

To calm concerns, Canadian authorities point out that “the proposed new offence is similar to one recently enacted by Australia, that prohibits advocating a terrorist act or the commission of a terrorism offence-all while being reckless as to whether another person will engage in this kind of activity.” Indeed, Australia enacted a new law late last year that indisputably targets political speech and ideas, as well as criminalizing journalism considered threatening by the government.

Punishing people for their speech deemed extremist or dangerous has been a vibrant practice in both the U.K. and U.S. for some time now, as I detailed (coincidentally) just a couple days before free speech marches broke out in the West after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Those criminalization-of-speech attacks overwhelmingly target Muslims, and have resulted in the punishment of such classic free speech activities as posting anti-war commentary on Facebook, tweeting links to “extremist” videos, translating and posting “radicalizing” videos to the Internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package.

In this regard, having the French Interior Ministry now unilaterally block websites is the next logical step in this growing attack on free speech by Western governments in the name of stopping extremism and radicalism. The large red hand of state censors over the Internet is a perfect symbol of the prevailing mindset in the West, whose fondness for self-righteously condemning China and Iran for their attempts to control Internet content is bottomless. The ironic mass arrests by France of people who “glorify” terrorism – carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Paris “free speech” rally – largely targeted that country’s Muslims.

Let’s briefly note the futility of the French efforts: in the way that censorship efforts fail generally and are particularly doomed to failure in the Internet era. I’m currently in Germany, just a few miles from the French border, and am able to access all the banned sites. Reports suggest that the French government failed miserably on technical grounds to block the targeted sites, as at least 4 of the 5 are still fully available even in France. The owner of the hosting company for one of the banned sites,, insisted on Twitter yesterday that he was never contacted with any request to remove offending material.

Beyond the technical issues, trying to legislate ideas out of existence is a fool’s game: those sufficiently determined will always find ways to make themselves heard. Indeed, as U.S. pop star Barbra Streisand famously learned, attempts to suppress ideas usually result in the greatest publicity possible for their advocates and/or elevate them by turning fringe ideas into martyrs for free speech (I have zero doubt that all five of the targeted sites enjoyed among their highest traffic dates ever today as a result of the French targeting).

But the comical futility of these efforts is exceeded by their profound dangers. Who wants governments to be able to unilaterally block websites? Isn’t the exercise of this website-blocking power what has long been cited as reasons we should regard the Bad Countries – such as China and Iran – as tyrannies (which also usually cite “counter-terrorism” to justify their censorship efforts)?

As those and countless other examples prove, the concepts of “extremism” and “racializing” (like “terrorism” itself) are incredibly vague and elastic, and in the hands of those who wield power, almost always expand far beyond what you think it should mean (plotting to blow up innocent people) to mean: anyone who disseminates ideas that are threatening to the exercise of our power. That’s why powers justified in the name of combating “radicalism” or “extremism” are invariably – not often or usually, but invariably – applied to activists, dissidents, protesters, and those who challenge prevailing orthodoxies and power centers.

My arguments for distrusting governments to exercise powers of censorship are set forth here (in the context of a prior attempt by a different French Minister to control the content of Twitter). In sum, far more damage has been inflicted historically by efforts to censor and criminalize political ideas than by the kind of “terrorism” these governments are invoking to justify these censorship powers.

And whatever else may be true, few things are more inimical to, or threatening of, Internet freedom than allowing functionaries inside governments to unilaterally block websites from functioning on the ground that the ideas those sites advocate are objectionable or “dangerous.” That’s every bit as true when the censors are in Paris, London, and Ottawa, and Washington as when they are in Tehran, Moscow or Beijing. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+28 # Activista 2015-03-17 22:01
Exactly - label somebody inconvenient "terrorist" and censor. Censorship will kill the ANY society in the end. Remember under Reagan labeling environmentalis ts eco- terrorists.
I lived under censorship through my college years - they used the different term - it was before the Internet - propaganda and distrust - not very civil society - and now I feel like I am "home" again - in land of censorship.
+29 # John S. Browne 2015-03-17 22:25

What's scarier? I'll tell you what's scarier: It's the blocking of websites. And we're much more likely to run into that than to be the victim of terrorism. Besides, the U.S. and the other Western governments are the biggest terrorists; so, if we are citizens of, and live in these Western countries (lucky Glenn Greenwald that, though he is a U.S. citizen, he no longer lives in the U.S., but resides in Brazil), we are more likely to run into their terrorism in the form of violating, contravening and abrogating our human and civil rights, than to be the victim of an an act of violent terrorism at the hands of an "al-CIA- duh(!)"-created extremist group.

It's related to the question of who decides who lives and who dies. Who decides what websites get blocked? If they, as they increasingly do, feel that all criticism of the increasingly tyrannical Western governments is "terrorism", then pretty soon they will be blocking more and more expressions of free speech for so-called "thought 'crime(s)'" against the government. Thus, the power to decide what websites get blocked, like the power to decide who lives and who dies, invariably gets abused, and will be abused to a larger and larger extent.

+15 # John S. Browne 2015-03-17 22:28

This is completely inimical to True Liberty and Freedom; but, naturally, the increasingly fascist Western governments, and global government, don't think so. They want absolute domination and control, and are cementing it more and more into place as I write this, making us, very quickly, less and less Truly Free. What these globalist and Western powers believe are "freedom" and "liberty", are in truth completely unrecognizable as having any actual connection with True Liberty and Freedom anymore at all, since the former is devoid of any of the latter, except in appearance only.

The U.S. and other Western, increasingly globalist, governments are getting more and more totalitarian, oppressive and repressive with each passing day; and "We, the People", who these governments are supposed to be answerable to, are intentionally and by design being made powerless to a worse and worse extent, with tyranny and fascism increasing by leaps and bounds all around us. So, what are we to do, take all of this laying down and do nothing about it, but let it get worse and worse? No, as the U.S. Declaration of Independence says, we must "throw off" this more and more illegitimate government:


Written by John S. Browne
Thursday, 26 February 2015 08:50

+15 # jsluka 2015-03-18 00:21
Yes, it is very scary to think that any government would be able to do this because they are totally incapable and untrustworthy when it comes to deciding who the "terrorists" are. First off, no government or group our government supports would be defined as "terrorist" no matter how much violence against innocent people (the objective or nonpropaganda definition of terrorism) they engaged in. Second off, "our" terrorism would never be defined as "terrorism." By blocking information, the purpose would simply be to fight a propaganda battle against countries, groups, and individuals the government doesn't approve of. To the Romans, Spartacus and Jesus were terrorists; to the Nazis during WW2 the French and other resistance groups were terrorists; to the US, the Vietcong were terrorists, as were the rebels in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. - on the other hand the "Contras" were "freedom fighters." The right to access to information so that citizens in a democracy are well-informed is essential to a healthy, functioning democracy, and censorship is an aspect of totalitarianism .
+20 # pres 2015-03-18 01:28
If the US government really wants to minimize most terrorism, death, and destruction it only needs to look into the mirror each day!
They do much more of that than anybody else. (However, Israel is right behind them)
+5 # wantrealdemocracy 2015-03-18 09:15
Ya have this backward. The United States is right behind Israel and doing as Israel orders.

Didn't you see our Congress jumping up and down when their true leader spoke to them?
+8 # restore2america 2015-03-18 07:57
What is the difference between governments and terrorist threats? Governments are real threats and conduct institutionaliz ed terrorism. "Terrorists" are those branded by governments, as were "uppity women", "anarchists", "communists" in prior eras. They are people that the government disagrees with, disapproves of or fears may bring a change that challenges the people who hold power and wealth. Some "terrorists" do murder people, but most seem to be women and children and old folks bombed to death by drones. Many "terrorists" were funded by governments like our own Fed. Governments are scarier because they have heavily armed militant thugs roaming our cities in armored vehicles, and they shoot people to death in folks homes, no public streets, in parks.
+8 # Rick Mason 2015-03-18 09:11
This is one of the most important reasons I, and millions of other enlightened people, have been pushing hard to start real, fact-based discussions about what really happened on the day that started, or at least elevated, all this over-hyped fear of terrorism.....9 /11/2001. The powers that be can now attach the label "Terrorist" to any opinion they deem 'extremist' and legally harass and intimidate the persons expressing those opinions. I know because "they" sent two Secret Service goons to my house after I posted an opinion "they" didn't care for about 'Dubya'. The goons wasted over two hours of my time going through my computer and private life, and threatened to "disappear" me if they found anything 'incriminating' . All this harassment because of unconstitutiona l new laws based on the scientifically provable lies that are the 'official' events of 9/11. For those who still believe those lies, I urge you to put down your copy of "Popular Mechanics" and read the conclusive evidence uncovered by over 2000 of the world's most accomplished experts on the subject, the members of I know that I trust the opinions of the civil engineers who design and build the giant buildings we inhabit over those of the editors of a magazine or politicians. Exposing that huge lie would go far to diffuse the ever rising unfounded hyped-up fear of terrorism now gripping the globe!
+9 # Edwina 2015-03-18 09:22
Well, if the law was applied equally -- that is if someone could sue when it is the FBI or another government agency doing the inciting to terrorism -- then it might be O.K. Seriously, neither Dem's nor Rep's seem to feel bound by the Constitution. The public, and progressive organizations, will have to fight each infringement, case by case.
+5 # tedrey 2015-03-18 10:38
Would the government consider a law which criminalizes “every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of aggressive or preemptive war"? In many cases that would directly threaten not only themselves but also many of their own agents and supporters.

Either both laws or neither, I'd say.
-1 # NAVYVET 2015-03-22 13:51
Neither, I hope.
+4 # fredboy 2015-03-18 14:23
Censorship is intellectual terrorism.
+1 # Activista 2015-03-18 20:55
Quoting fredboy:
Censorship is intellectual terrorism.

censorship is laziness of the ruling class/party - not able to support/defend their ideology ...
+1 # Activista 2015-03-18 20:53
6 ways US gov't is breaking own censorship record
it is pathetic that to learn facts (go around censorship) we have to go to foreign sources ...
+1 # tm7devils39 2015-03-19 13:47
SOooo...who's going to shut down the US Government's website(s)...?
+1 # NAVYVET 2015-03-22 13:50
I'm a Medievalist. Terrorism is the new word for "lese majeste" and "treason". It's just about as vague and meaningless literally, while acting as a wedge to get around laws protecting free speech. BEWARE THE POLITICAL IMMORALITY OF THE RENAISSANCE! The "Divine Right of Kings" has been transplanted by the "Divine Right of Unelected Spy Agencies" and the "Divine Right of Corporations"!

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