French murders spark Internet debate (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Ruby Russell and Louise Osborne - Special to The Washington Times BERLIN, GERMANY 04/04/12)
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BERLIN — A murder spree in France by a gunman inspired by al Qaeda
Internet sites has European experts debating proposals to criminalize
the act of regularly visiting terrorist Web pages.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for new legislation last week
that would punish people who “habitually consulted” websites that
advocate terrorism or incite hatred and violence.
The move followed the killing of three Jewish children, a rabbi and
three French soldiers by Mohamed Merah, 23, before police fatally
shot him during a 32-hour standoff at his home in southwestern France.
Many analysts say Mr. Sarkozy’s initiative is “ludicrous,” and some
questioned the feasibility of widespread Internet monitoring.
“You have to understand that this is just an announcement because we
are in a presidential campaign, so I don’t think it’s going to be
transformed into a new law,” said Eric Denece, director of the French
Center for Intelligence Research in Paris.
“The French now permit police to arrest people before they commit an
attack, and that is enough for the time being. Most of the lawyers
and judge and prosecutors say that this new project is absolutely
stupid and will probably be ineffective.”
Mr. Sarkozy is in a tight race for re-election in voting scheduled in
April and May.
Extremist websites have been often been cited by government officials
and analysts as the source of inspiration for would-be terrorists.
The Web pages provide a means of research, contact and communication
for various terrorism groups. The killings in Toulouse, France, have
sparked a renewed debate in Europe on what to do about them.
“We’ve begun to see a bigger debate around online networking. We’re
beginning to enter into a debate around cybersecurity in relation to
extremism,” said Matthew Goodwin, who specializes in studying
extremism at the University of Nottingham in Britain.
“The responses across Europe vary, but what we are seeing is a
growing interest around the tools that extremist groups use, whether
Internet sites or social media or networking.”
In 2002, the European Union adopted rules to combat terrorism,
compelling member states to introduce legislation that criminalizes
preparing and training for a terrorist attack.
“There are no holes in the legislative net anymore. We can prosecute
and prohibit almost everything connected to terrorism,” said Beatrice
de Graaf of the International Center for Counterterrorism in The
Hague, who did a recent comparative study of counterterrorism
“The point is not a lack of legislative measures. The problem is
living up to these laws, monitoring these sites, assessing and
analyzing and processing all the material.”
Large-scale monitoring of the Internet would lead to high costs for
governments and threaten people’s privacy, analysts say.
“Targeted surveillance is much easier than mass surveillance; but if
you wanted to try to capture people you don’t know about, the problem
is, who are you going to include - the population as a whole or
people on incredibly vague suspicions?” said Peter Sommer, who
specializes Internet issues at the London School of Economics.
Meanwhile, digital-rights campaigners say plans to go after people
visiting the websites, rather than those producing the sites, are
“The first thing that needs to be established is what is legal or
not. If somebody is generating content that is illegal, then the
person who is committing that offense is the person that you should
go after, not the people who, for whatever reason, end up on a
particular website reading it,” said Joe McNamee of Digital Civil
Rights in Europe. (© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC. 04/04/12)
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