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How Should Extremist Propaganda Online Be Handled?

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Islamic State elderly executioners appear in an ISIS propaganda video
Islamic State elderly executioners appear in an ISIS propaganda video (Photo: video screenshot)

Those who view extremist content online in the UK could face up to 15 years in prison if new measures are implemented. Punishments would apply equally to those who view jihadist as well as far-right forms of extremism. Home Secretary Amber Rudd unveiled the proposed measures at the Conservative Party Conference.

The Spectator has a transcript of the full speech.

The sentences will also apply to those who publish information about members of the armed forces, police and intelligence services to help terrorists.

The proposed change is an alteration to the Terrorism Act (2000), to extend punishments for “possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist” to include those who view such material online without downloading it.

I want to make sure those who view despicable terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions, face the full force of the law,” Rudd said when unveiling the new policy. “There is currently a gap in the law around material [that] is viewed or streamed from the internet without being permanently downloaded. This is an increasingly common means by which material is accessed online for criminal purposes and is a particularly prevalent means of viewing extremist material such as videos and web pages.”

Rudd did allow that journalists and academics would be allowed a “reasonable excuse” clause to avoid prosecution for their research.

It is unclear what the government will deem extremist material, or whether the new laws will be used to punish critics of the government.

That statement sends a clear message the British government will use a bill supposedly designed to curtail terrorism as the pretext to shut down speech it doesn’t like,” Deputy Editor of the Daily Caller Scott Greer wrote.

It is vitally important that states take appropriate measures to prevent terror attacks by shutting down incipient networks before they fully form. However, there is something deeply unsettling about sentencing someone to 15 years in prison simply for reading a book or watching a video.

What do you think?

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.