Thursday, April 9, 2009

Extremist Web Sites Are Using U.S. Hosts

Today's Washington Post reports on the Taliban's use of U.S. Internet Service Providers (ISP). The article states,

On March 25, a Taliban Web site claiming to be the voice of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" boasted of a deadly new attack on coalition forces in that country. Four soldiers were killed in an ambush, the site claimed, and the "mujahideen took the weapons and ammunition as booty."

Most remarkable about the message was how it was delivered. The words were the Taliban's, but they were flashed around the globe by an American-owned firm located in a leafy corner of downtown Houston.

For those writing their final paper on how terrorist groups use the Internet, I recommend that you read it in full. Despite the articles implication that the use of U.S. ISPs is a "new" trend, it is important to understand that terrorist groups, specifically al-Qaeda, have long made use of U.S. ISPs to deliver their message. Ive seen groups use U.S. ISPs for the last five years. Ive also seen terrorist ulilize other American online services such as YouTube!, the US Government funded Internet Archive, and WordPress to name a few.

1 comment:

Arman Ismail said...

The Taliban’s use of a U.S. ISP, curtsey of a Houston firm called ThePlanet, to boast of a Taliban attack on coalition forces, demonstrates how terrorist organizations have been taking advantage of U.S. ISPs for a number of years to disseminate their messages of terror. As the Washington Post article points out, Islamist militants have enthusiastically employed the use of unsuspecting U.S. Internet firms due to the dependability of these firms’ services as well as the relatively lax terms these firms have that permit near anonymity. Terrorist groups clearly understand the immense utility in exploiting American online services for their ends. As Rebecca Givner-Forbes explained in her presentation, terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda even state how they relish being able to use Western technology while still rejecting Western ideals. This reality draws to light the importance of preventing terrorists from easily and freely utilizing American online services.

However, the dilemma open, democratic, and transparent societies like ours face is how to balance the competing needs of security with protecting basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech. This predicament is highlighted in how terrorists have sought to use YouTube as a tool to bolster their activities and ideologies. Terrorist training videos were allowed to be posted on Youtube until government officials like Senator Joe Lieberman insisted on the imposition of greater oversight. As a result, Google altered its Community Guidelines to mandate that terrorist training videos constituted a violation of YouTube’s Terms of Use. Instances such as this are indicative of how it is often essential to impose greater regulation over how online services can be used. While the majority of Americans, including myself, would likely be more than willing to sacrifice certain freedoms in how we use these online services in the interests of greater security, age-old issues regarding a ‘slippery-slope’ and where to draw the line between preserving freedoms and upholding security arise. Thus, there is no easy answer to how we can guard against terrorist exploitation of our online services while still being true to our democratic principles that relate to the freedom of information and speech. Sadly, I fear this dilemma that free societies like ours and throughout the world face is something terrorist organizations gleefully take advantage of—a frightening reality that incidents like the Tailban’s use of ThePlanet’s ISP illustrate.