This page considers regulation of online bombmaking information
and points to some studies.
issues - balancing free speech,
public safety and credibility
- restricting access to explosives and ingredients
- government and academic studies
A key issue in regulating bomb or other weapons sites
is the appropriateness of legislation against information
(often characterised as innately neutral) and publication
rather than action, particularly in cultures with a strong
emphasis on free speech.
What are regulators seeking to do? We can identify several
The first - often dismissed as gesture politics or technological
naivety - is to supress information that undermines community
safety and is rendered more potent through online distribution.
If reflects identification of the net as "the other"
(ie a contemporary focus for latent anxieties)
and as a soft target.
A second is restriction of bomb sites as a form of social
boundary setting, signalling that some activities are
unacceptable. Proponents of that restriction recognise
that it will not be wholly effective but consider that
the value of the overall "message" is significant,
outweighing concerns about limits on free speech.
Restrictions have often been complemented by withdrawal
from the public domain of information about critical infrastructure.
In practice it is clear that dligence and social engineering
will often reveal much of the suppressed information.
Ironically, denunciations by politicians and the media
regarding the existence of bomb sites (and exotica such
as the New Zealand DIY cruise missile site)
has arguably made that information easier to find and
driven people to emulate online publication.
In 1999 survivors of the Oklahoma City and Unabomber bombings
on commercial internet hosts and enterprises such as such
as Yahoo! that provide space for newsgroups
and other forums to
automated search engine programs that continuously scan
their computers for red-flag keywords suggesting the
presence of bombmaking instructions. If a staff review
of the site or posting then turned up actual instructions
for making bombs, it should immediately be shut down
engine operators should conduct similar automated scans
of the web, with the engines
not providing links to confirmed bombmaking sites. The
operators should also alert hosts to the presence of
dangerous and inappropriate information on their servers.
calls have been disregarded; critics of the Austin prosecution
in the US accordingly note that a 'better' version of
instructions about DIY molotov
cocktail making is available on Wikipedia.
The Melbourne Age announced November 2005 that
and electronic surveillance since July last year had
yielded almost 240 hours of conversations between [alleged
Australian terrorist group] members discussing making
bombs, sourcing chemicals and identifying other chemicals
"that were not easy to source since September 11",
gathering funds and organising military style training.
... The group had downloaded the Vortex Cookbook,
a sort of anarchists' handbook, detailing the concoction
of that cookbook does not extend beyond recycling over-the-counter
Action against online publishing reflects perceptions
of risk and safety, with substantial research suggesting
that perceptions of danger (and the intensity of responses)
are sometimes not based on hard statistics. Sprightly
comments are provided by Frank Furedi's Culture of
Fear (London: Continuum 2002).
In July 2007 EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini indicated
that the European Commission planned to criminalise placing
instructions on the internet about how to make a bomb.
"Arguments about freedom of expression will not be
allowed to stand in the way of criminalising the publication
of bomb-making information that could be used by terrorists".
ISPs would face charges if they failed to block websites
containing bomb-making instructions generated anywhere
in the world. Frattini commented that
should simply not be possible to leave people free to
instruct other people on the internet on how to make
a bomb – that has nothing to do with freedom of
expression. My proposal will be to criminalise actions
and instructions to make a bomb because it is too often
that we discover websites that contain complete instructions
for homemade bombs.
One criticism of moves to censor the net (and remove DIY
guides from bookshops and libraries) is that potential
criminals do not need to concoct their own explosives
- and thereby risk eliminating both themselves and their
kitchen sinks - if they can steal high quality explosives
from storage at a civil engineering project, buy blasting
powder over the counter for agricultural use or purchase
pyrotechnics for recreational use.
Governments have sought to ensure that explosives are
stored in a secure environment, although it is clear that
there is some loss from construction sites in Australia
and elsewhere, and to crimp large-scale access to the
more powerful pyrotechnics.
It is not possible to tightly restrict multi-purpose chemicals
such as paint thinner. Governments have, however, sought
to restrict access to materials for fertiliser bombs.
In implementing a national agreement Australian states
and territories have enacted restrictions on access to
security sensitive ammonium nitrate (SSAN). Retailers
and suppliers of SSAN fertilisers must be registered
and are not permitted to sell or supply SSAN for private
'home use' in concentrations greater than 45% ammonium
nitrate. Those distributors can only provide SSAN to licensed
users, primarily agriculturalists. All licence holders
must undergo a security clearance
involving police and ASIO.
Similar arrangements are in place in the UK, Spain and
other nations, underpinned by restrictions - effective
or otherwise - on storage of SSAN.
In contrast to mass media angst about bomb recipes there
have been few detailed studies of what information is
available online, whether that information is accurate,
who might be looking at it and whether it is available
Genevieve Knezo's 2003 report for the Congressional Research
Service on 'Sensitive But Unclassified' and Other
Federal Security Controls on Scientific & Technical
Information: History & Current Controversy (PDF)
offers an introduction to US debate about restrictions
on technical information published by government agencies
and associated bodies.
US literature regarding the suppression of online information
about bomb making includes Bryan Yeazel's 2002 'Bomb-making
Manuals on the Internet' in 16 Notre Dame Journal
of Law, Ethics and Public Policy 279-306, Brian Holland's
2005 'Inherently Dangerous: The Potential For An Internet-Specific
Standard Restricting Speech That Performs a Teaching Function'
in 39 University of San Francisco Law Review
353-406, Liezl Pangilinan's 2005 'When A Nation Is At
War: A Context Dependent Theory of Free Speech For the
Regulation of Weapon Recipes' in 22 Cardozo Arts &
Entertainment Law Journal 683-721 and Andrianna Kastanek's
2004 'From Hit Man To A Military Takeover of New York
City: The Evolving Effects of Rice v Paladin Enterprises
on Internet Censorship' in 99 Northwestern University
Law Review 383-440.
Background includes the 1997 US Commission on Physical
Sciences, Mathematics, & Applications (CPSMA) report
Marking, Rendering Inert, and Licensing of Explosive
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