Fear Of Knowledge: The EU Edition

In a discussion for another post, astute reader Laura, linked me to a rather off putting story today about how fear of terrorism is leading the Union to attempt to restrict the aquisition of knowledge to its citizens.

First, it should be noted that fear of knowledge is itself a dangerous and fearsome thing.  I’ve written extensively on this before.  By ignoring knowledge available to us, we are intentionally handicapping ourselves, putting blinders to the kind of information that better prepares us to face new threats and dangers such as terrorism.

But apparently Franco Frattini, the head of security for the European Union, doesn’t see it quite that way:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Internet searches for bomb-making instructions should be blocked across the European Union, the bloc’s top security official said on Monday.

Internet providers should also prevent access to any site giving instructions on how to make a bomb, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said in an interview.

“I do intend to carry out a clear exploring exercise with the private sector … on how it is possible to use technology to prevent people from using or searching dangerous words like bomb, kill, genocide or terrorism,” Frattini told Reuters.

The EU executive is to make this proposal to member states early in November as part of a raft of anti-terrorism proposals.

These include the screening of private data of passengers flying into the 27-nation bloc and the creation of an early warning system to alert police forces to thefts of explosives.

Representatives of the Internet industry are meeting the EU on Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of al Qaeda‘s September 11 attacks on the United States, at a European Security Research and Innovation Forum.

The Internet has taken on huge importance for militant groups, enabling them to share know-how and spread propaganda to a mass audience, as well as to link cell members.


Asked whether a plan to block searches for bomb instructions or for the word ‘terrorism’ on Web search engines could infringe on the rights to expression and information, Frattini said in the phone interview:

“Frankly speaking, instructing people to make a bomb has nothing to do with the freedom of expression, or the freedom of informing people.

First, I believe whole heartedly in the freedom of knowledge.  Knowledge itself is a tool, and can be used for good or ill.  By restricting knowledge of a thing to everyone, you are restricting it not only to the people that seek to do damage with it, but also to those who have the potential to do good.

On the surface, sure, it seems like the only people that would want to use these terms are those that seek to do ill.  But here’s the rub.  In my efforts at political writing, search engines have become a vital tool, in digging up news articles, databanks, statistics, etc.  I can and have used words like “bomb making” “terrorism” “terrorist plots” etc. on a regular basis not because I am a terrorist, but because one of my driving forces in this endeavor is to shed light on how terrorism works in order to offer better proposals and ideas on how we as a global community might inhibit the growth of terrorism world wide.

Contrary to the neoconservative agenda which believes that you can end terrorists merely by bombing them, such an effort requires research into the way terrorists operate.  Things like the al Qaeda manual are invaluable tools to understanding and therefore predicting how such an organization will act in the future, and is great for use when people attempt to inject terrorism into various arguments such as immigration.

Those who subscribe to the fear of knowledge, restrict this information to citizens trying to be part of the solution and not part of the cure, and in truth are merely feeding into the hysteria which encourages and energizes terrorist movements in the first place.

Lately, I’ve been referencing Otterman’s work a lot lately, and it bears mentioning again.  In his book American Torture, Otterman speaks of the “Emergence of the State”, a concept that, following a widespread catastrophic attack, the federal government will naturally seek to broaden its jurisdiction, often at the expense of civil rights and liberties.

Here, the EU, and much of the world to be honest, has gotten so twitchy that it doesn’t even need to wait for a major attack anymore, the catalyst in this case being a foiled terrorism plot in Germany.  And the consequences are not uplifting.

Indeed, under these proposed rules, even finding a news article using a search engine about that foiled plot would be difficult.  And for those of us who feel it necessary and important to catalog history so we don’t repeat it, this is a dire consequence indeed.

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