NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 15, 2005

Legislation to prohibit bomb-making instructions on the Internet may seem like the right thing to do in the wake of recent terrorist activities, but it may not be very effective, says Ann Larabee (Michigan State University).

Even before the advent of the Internet, she explains, people could access bomb-making instructions from library books or private circulation of printed texts.

For example:

  • In the 1880s, two Irish nationalists groups in the United States set up bomb-making schools in various parts of the country, and one of their members traveled around the United States offering instructions to anyone interested.
  • Also during the same period, anarchist Johann Most compiled information from Austrian military manuals on making high explosives, which he sold at anarchist picnics.
  • Plans for making nuclear devices can be found in the public domain, without using the Internet.

Furthermore, says Larabee, violent radicals cease their activities not because of lack of technical information, but due to other factors, such as social and political change, internal struggles that have disintegrated their operations, or intense surveillance by authorities that have caused them to give up.

Knee-jerk legislation designed to stifle Internet speech will only deter from more effective efforts at achieving public safety, she says.

Source: Anna Larabee, "Bombs: It's Not the How, but the Why," Star-Telegram, August 7, 2005.


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