from the thoughtcrimes-or-boondoggles? dept
As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick aptly observes, the largely neglected "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007," which passed by an overwhelming margin in the House and will now be taken up by the Senate, seems to have provoked two types of reactions among those who've noticed it: Half think it's a pointless, redundant boondoggle, the other half think it's a first step toward an Orwellian War on Thoughtcrime. The stated purpose of the bill is to try to come up with ways to stop “radicalized thought” from turning into terrorist action — but that’s pretty open ended.After a cursory read of the bill itself, I tend toward the former interpretation: The law, which would establish a commission to study the causes of "ideologically based violence," evokes MiniLuv less readily than it does Tom Chapin's satirical folk song "A Study's About to Begin." And, indeed, the government has already conducted ample research [PDF] on the psychology and sociology of terrorism. Still, it's not hard to see why civil libertarians get uneasy when the bill's sponsor, California Democrat Jane Harman, is prone to talk about formulating plans "to intervene before a person crosses that line separating radical views from violent behavior," which, presumably, means "intervening" while the person is still only holding radical views. Nor is it especially comforting to reflect on the bill's "finding" that "The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States," which suggests a mandate to focus on offensive online speech. Precisely because the bill is redundant, it seems more useful to worry about the actual steps law enforcement agencies take in service of "prevention." Depending on the composition of any commission convened under the law, there's a fair chance it will produce, if not a boot stamping on a human face forever, then at least a generous helping of national security FUD.