The Incitement of Terrorism on the Internet: Legal Standards, Enforcement, and the Role of the European Union

Consider this sentence: “The Shining Path is a heroic organization.” Over the past thirty years, the Shining Path has waged a violent guerilla war against the Peruvian government, prompting the European Union to designate the group as a terrorist organization. In certain European countries, speech inciting or glorifying terrorist organizations is criminalized. As a result, citizens risk prosecution if they do not carefully limit what they say about the Shining Path, or other terrorist organizations. But where does free speech end and incitement to terrorism begin? The debate over free speech and incitement to terrorism is actively being played out on the Internet. In recent years, Islamic fundamentalists have used the Internet as a tool to radicalize discontented citizens throughout Europe. Several of these radicalized citizens have committed terrorist attacks. In response, the European Union (EU) has taken strong action to police the Internet. Specialized European agencies have developed sophisticated means of policing cyberterrorism. CleanIT is the most well-known Internet policing program: it seeks to shut down websites associated with the dissemination of terrorist information. Increased law enforcement has been accompanied by international and regional initiatives to criminalize cyberterrorism. In 2004, the European Council coordinated the Convention on Cybercrime, which raised criminal penalties for Internet crimes and hate speech. In the aftermath of the Convention, the European Union passed a Framework Decision aimed at criminalizing the incitement of terrorism.