Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Gesture politics

Justice and security commissioner Franco Frattini is doing his best to emulate King Canute's advisors, proposing the internet equivalent of turning back the tides.

Internet sites showing how to make bombs or which make "public provocations aimed at inspiring criminal action" should be banned, he says – one of the measures he is to propose in a raft of EU counter terrorism measures this autumn.

Needless to say, the instant reaction from experts is that this simply cannot be done. Attempts to control child porn, for instance, have had limited effect and, if anything, traffic in this ghastly area has increased.

But, interviewed on BBC's Radio 4 World at One, we got a typical response from Frattini, to the effect that is better to do something than nothing at all – even if the action is known to be ineffective. "It is simply not possible to allow people to instruct other people on the internet on how to make a bomb," he says.

There is, however, a real battle to be fought on the internet, which terrorists are using widely, for command and control, for disseminating propaganda and for training their people.

But the counter-techniques are mixed. As well as shutting them down, they include allowing the sites to remain active, to watch who goes on to them, and setting up "spoof sites" to attract unwary browsers in order to feed them false information.

That said, those who want the information will always be able to find it. Terrorists can host sites anywhere in the world, or squat undetected on community sites. They can set them up and take them down faster than they can be tracked, with potential users advised of their locations through forums and chat rooms, as well as via GMS texts.

Therefore, Frattini's initiative is nothing more than gesture politics. But then, the EU is playing its own propaganda game and being seen to do something is all part of that game. In the final analysis, when it comes to promoting the EU, anything goes, even exploiting peoples' concerns about terrorism.


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