I am Ro Khanna and represent the heart of Silicon Valley in Congress. The Valley isn’t just a place for businesses but we have a commitment to values. One of those core values that I hope many Daily Kos readers share is a strong commitment to free speech.
European leaders are jeopardizing the free and open internet with their rhetoric after the recent, horrific terrorist attacks.
I am deeply concerned with their recent calls to strengthen the surveillance state and crackdown on encryption. Prime Minister May wants to regulate and monitor the internet, and French President Macron wants tech companies to build a backdoor to encryption.
Benjamin Franklin said it best when observing that “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” Franklin could not be more correct. Governments should not be allowed to read our emails or spy on our internet activity.
Prime Minister May, unfortunately, placed a significant part of the blame for the recent terrorist attacks in London on the internet. Her proposals of having the government monitor communication over the internet is similar to what China does. If websites do not comply with surveillance, May has suggested banning and taking down the sites. This would be an unbelievable overreach of power and infringe on speech that may be critical of those in power.
Equally troubling are calls do crackdown on encryption. Encryption technology allows us to securely send messages and information, making it virtually impossible to hack. Macron argues in favor of creating a backdoor to encryption, so that authorities can read messages of terrorists. This debate recently reached a peak when Apple refused to open the San Bernardino shooter’s phone for the FBI. I supported that decision. A backdoor, while useful for the FBI and police state, will make us all less safe. Increasing surveillance and creating a door makes it easier for hackers and foreign governments to infiltrate our devices and gain access to important personal information. Additionally, if we force U.S. companies to create a back-door, terrorists will just use non-American, encrypted platforms like Telegram.
In addition to creating a surveillance state, May and Macron called on tech companies to do more to remove terrorists and their propaganda from their platforms. Tech companies for months now have made great strides and investments to take down harmful content and suspend terrorist accounts, but more can be done. Adopting technologies like the one Dr. Hany Farid from Dartmouth College created that was originally built to recognize child pornography could help in this effort. But, as we take down harmful content and ISIS propaganda, we must be careful not to infringe on the First Amendment. We have to distinguish between speech that incites violent and speech that is simply dissent or criticism.
Finally, we must proactively counter the ISIS narrative online and highlight the positive contribution Muslim-Americans make to our great country and the world. Why not use social media to amplify the narrative of the refugee fleeing ISIS for Europe and America. Just as these platforms make it easy for violence and evil propaganda to spread, they can be vehicles for positive messages. We should create a commission of our best and most creative Americans, (from Hollywood, Madison Avenue, corporate America, songwriters, tech leaders) to create an organic social media campaign that will win the battle of hearts and minds against ISIS. Refugees who are leaving ISIS led areas to come to the U.S. could tell their stories about how they have contributed to our nation and built a better life.
I hope May and Macron accept my invitation to visit Silicon Valley so they can see the progress being made on these important issues. When combating the threat of terrorism, leaders across the globe need to remember the importance of speech and privacy. The internet offers an unprecedented opportunity for the dissemination of information and empowerment of ordinary individuals to have a political voice. We cannot let terrorists undermine Silicon Valley's core aspiration of building a freer world.