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Sen. Dianne Feinstein is worried net neutrality might help the terrorists

David Lee / Flickr

In a remarkable feat, internet providers have apparently succeeded in making the net neutrality fight about terrorism. In a newly-published letter delivered to the Federal Communications Commission in May, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) raised concerns that the new net neutrality rules might be used to shield terrorists. In particular, Feinstein was concerned that Dzhokar Tsarnaev had studied bomb-making materials on the internet — specifically, online copies of AQAP's Inspire magazine — and that many broadband providers had complained to her that net neutrality rules would prevent them from honoring any orders to block that content.

It's quite a bind, and in the letter, Feinstein entreats FCC chair Tom Wheeler to assure providers that it isn't true. The senator acknowledges that there are laws against material support for terrorism, and Title II only applies to legal web traffic, but "nonetheless, there is apparently confusion among at least some broadband providers on whether they may take such actions in order to promote national security and law enforcement purposes."

Fast lane or no, you can still pull someone over

This argument is nonsense for at least three different reasons. For one, there's no current effort to wipe Inspire off the internet entirely, nor is it clear what those grounds would be. If law enforcement agencies do want to take down a network of sites as a result of criminal activity, there's a clear process for them to do so. In fact, this happens all the time! Here's one example; here's another. This is not a real problem facing law enforcement agencies, and even if it were, it has nothing to do with Title II. The same Title II regulations have applied to landline telephones for years, and that hasn't stopped cops from singling out specific phone numbers for wiretaps or more drastic measures. Fast lane or no, you can still pull someone over if you've got the evidence to justify it.

In other words, this isn't about terrorism; it's about broadband providers doing whatever they can to throw a wrench in the FCC's net neutrality proposals. After countless ill-fated lawsuits, providers seem to have decided that making a counter-terrorism case is their best bet, and Senator Feinstein, never one to back down from a counter-terrorism fight, seems to have taken the bait. Of course, it's alarming to see the specter of recent terrorist killings being used to cynically further an unrelated domestic policy agenda, but hopefully this is just a one-off kind of thing.