Sen. Feinstein Revives Stupid Idea That Internet Companies Are ‘Materially Supporting Terrorism’

Photo: Mark @ Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo: Mark @ Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

By MIke Masnick

Last year, FBI Director James Comey floated a ridiculous idea that retweeting ISIS tweets could be seen as “material support” for terrorism. Indeed, an American teenager got sentenced to 11 years in jail for pro-ISIS tweets, with the “material support” being that some of those tweets linked to pages that taught people how to use Bitcoin. Some have taken this idea even further, and argued that internet companies can be slapped with “material support for terrorism” claims or chargesif they let ISIS members or other terrorists make use of their services.

This is ridiculous for many, many reasons, not the least of which is that (like in the encryption debate) it seems to presume that there’s some algorithm to magically determine who is good (not a terrorist) and who is bad (terrorist!). And just like ridiculous and impossible arguments for“kicking ISIS off the open web” — it would be ridiculously counterproductive. Not only would it be ridiculously costly to internet companies, but it would actually take away a major source of intelligence about terrorist groups, since they often reveal useful things on social media.

But guess who’s seriously thinking about looking to see if it’s possible to slap “material support of terrorism” charges on internet companies? Why, it’s a Senator who actually is supposed to be representing many of their interests as California companies, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Jenna McLaughlin, a national security reporter for The Intercept, noted that Feinstein floated the ideathis week, as if Feinstein had just thought of it:

We’ve already discussed how dumb an idea this is (even more so that it comes from a California Senator), but ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer had an excellent response as well, highlighting the sheer stupidity of Feinstein’s suggestion: