Experts say censorship not the way to stop terrorists from recruiting online

Censoring websites used by terrorist groups to recruit supporters is counterproductive, according to expert testimony on the Hill Wednesday.

Any laws or regulations aimed at blocking or removing extremist web content could hamper law enforcement's ability to collect information on the groups, according to civil liberties advocates at a hearing of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

"A mandate requiring the removal of terror-recruiting content online could be counterproductive to the fight against terrorism," said John Morris Jr., general counsel of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Using appropriate legal process, government agencies may be able gain invaluable information about terrorist operations by monitoring online sites and services."

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, urged the committee against "sacrificing our civil liberties in pursuit of security."

"We leave it to others to debate whether evidence shows that terrorists’ use of the Internet makes them more effective or simply more vulnerable to interception of their communications," Romero said. "Instead we are here to implore this subcommittee not to level its legislative guns at this most democratic of communications tools."

John Philip Mudd, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation's Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative, said the government should only consider information on users' online activities in the context of other intelligence data, such as a person's biographical information, travel history and other factors.

Mudd referred to the struggle against al Qaeda as a "campaign of ideas," and said digital outreach may be as important as traditional military attacks in winning the long-term battle.