Gabe Rottman writes at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights:
Earlier this month, the White House blogged about its commitment to empower “members of the public to protect themselves against the full range of online threats, including online radicalization to violence,” and announced the creation of a new interagency working group for that purpose. The working group will coordinate the government’s efforts and develop plans—alongside private industry—to “implement an Internet safety approach to address online extremism.”
The White House initiative raises a basic question: Is it appropriate for the government (in cahoots with private industry) to repurpose programs that, for instance, urge consumers to install anti-virus software and protect their credit card information into something that warns them against “bad” ideas?
My colleagues Mike German and Dena Sher have written at length about how “radicalization” models assume, falsely, that you can predict future violence from present sympathies for “radical” or “extreme” beliefs. As they point out, numerous studies have shown that (1) there is no simple link between the adoption of an ideology and violent action; and (2) that it’s exceedingly difficult to craft a coherent model of the kinds of ideologies or beliefs that could be expected to lead to violence (largely because of the manifold and ever-shifting nature of ideas themselves).
By ignoring these studies, efforts to identify a “radicalization” process focus on normal, everyday speech and association, generally with an ethnic or religious flavor. They do so because the whole purpose of a radicalization model is to provide a non-psychic “minority report“—a way to see into the future under the false presumption that thoughts lead directly to action. So, mosques, hookah bars and book stores become alleged “terrorist incubators.” Wearing Islamic clothes, growing a beard, joining community groups all become supposed indicators of future terrorist activity—even though thousands of people do these things and never commit a single criminal or violent act.
Dollars to donuts, the same thing is going to happen here. The White House announced that the federal consumer protection portal OnGuard Online as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s website titled “countering violent extremism” (which the government refers to by the catchy acronym “CVE”) would begin carrying precautionary “CVE information.” Crucially, even though CVE includes the word “violent,” the initiative has little to do with stopping actual conduct, and much more to do with urging the public to be alert for and report purely expressive or associational activity. The White House also announced that it will work with industry to adapt internet safety measures that help prevent fraud and identity theft to likewise address “online extremism”—whatever that means. There is no detail on what information will be posted to the government’s sites, or how these industry partnerships would work.
Read more here.