Senate passes bill restricting speech on bomb-making
WASHINGTON, D.C–In its efforts to craft new anti-terrorism legislation, the U.S. Senate in early June approved a measure proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) to make illegal the distribution of information on how to make a bomb if a person intends or knows that the bomb will be used for a criminal purpose.
Feinstein’s initial draft of the bill called for criminal penalties against anyone who had reason to know the information they distributed could be used to make a bomb.
Don Haines, legislative counsel to the ACLU in Washington, D.C., said the original version would have made newspapers liable for describing or depicting the fertilizer bombs used in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
He said that language ultimately adopted by the Senate is preferable because it does not merely criminalize information without any requirement of knowledge of a crime. However, he said that the provision still attacks speech rather than action and is unnecessary since conspiracy laws already prohibit persons from assisting in the commission of a crime.
Responding to arguments that anyone can learn how to make a bomb from reading an encyclopedia, Feinstein distinguished encyclopedic information from the instructional nature of some communications.
Feinstein also said that since computers can be involved and instructions can be distributed within minutes, “some restrictions on speech are appropriate.” (S. 735)