With the ongoing fear about the ability of the Islamic State to recruit people within the United States using the internet, University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner believes that it should be a crime to visit websites that support ISIS. The law professor also wants to make it a criminal act to distribute links to these websites, as well as to send out associated videos, images or text.
Posner believes that these websites convert otherwise naïve young people into a life of terrorism. According to Posner, making it a crime to access these websites would stop easily-manipulated and curious youngsters from joining ISIS.
Posner says that the penalties for such violations should increase with each offense. The first violation would result in an official warning letter from the government. Future violations would bring fines and possibly even prison sentences. The law professor went on to compare the viewing of ISIS propaganda to the viewing of child pornography.
However, Posner admits that such a law would not deter sophisticated terrorists from accessing such networks. These professional terrorists send encrypted messages that cannot be easily obtained. That being said, Posner says that the point of the law would be to prevent curious Americans from getting involved. According to Posner, unlike dedicated terrorists, curious Americans are less likely to use pseudonyms or encrypted servers.
Of course, many people would say that such a law would be a violation of the first amendment. Establishing this policy would interfere with American right to receive and read political information, even if that information is radical. The Supreme Court has said in the past that political speech can only be banned when it poses an immediate threat to the safety of the public. Speech that criticizes America or praises its enemies is protected. Ultimately, that’s what most of the ISIS propaganda in the United States really is.
Still, Posner says that ISIS propaganda is an exception. It offers messages of violence and hatred that can potentially turn a peaceful individual into a dangerous terrorist. Serving no potentially good purpose, Posner wants to make it a crime to access this material. That being said, he’s on a very slippery slope that could lead to censorship that Americans haven’t seen in years. While there’s no denying that something needs to be done to prevent curious Americans from joining ISIS, making the very access to their websites a crime is going about solving the problem in the wrong way.