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This Lawmaker Wants To Censor The Entire Internet To Shut Down ISIS

Congressman Joe Barton said ISIS sites "pop up like weeds" and need to be removed by authorities.

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NEW YORK — Republican Rep. Joe Barton asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Tuesday if they could shut down websites that host ISIS content, an unprecedented move that would see the FCC take a role in regulating the internet.

"Isn't there something we can do under existing law to shut those internet sites down?" asked the congressman from Texas during a House committee meeting Tuesday, according to a report in the Washington Post. "And I know they pop up like weeds, but once they do pop up, shut them down and turn the internet addresses over to the appropriate law enforcement agencies to try and track them down."

The head of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, quickly shot down the suggestion, saying “we cannot underestimate the challenge.”

"We do not have jurisdiction over Facebook and all the other edge providers. We do not intend to assert jurisdiction over them," Wheeler said.

In the days since an attack in Paris claimed by ISIS left 129 dead and more than 350 injured, Western governments have been struggling to explain the intelligence breakdown that meant the attackers were not stopped. Many have cited the "Dark Web" and "encryption technology" they claim is used by ISIS to hide their communications. The Dark Web, however, is simply a shorthand for sites that mask their servers through cryptography, while encryption is used on many everyday messaging apps such as WhatsApp. While ISIS has increasingly sought to use more secure platforms, intelligence officers told BuzzFeed News over the weekend that much of that encryption is easy to hack and the bigger problem was a lack of intelligence collected by real-world actors in the field.

Still, across Europe and the United States, government officials have called for expanding the government’s surveillance powers and for shutting down sites that host ISIS content.

In his comments Tuesday, Barton said ISIS was “using the internet in an extremely offensive and inappropriate way against us.”

Wheeler, however, was quick to explain that his organization does not have the authority to regulate individual websites for good reason — it would violate the FCC’s own net neutrality rules that stop the agency from becoming a regulator of free speech on the internet. Services like Facebook and Twitter are responsible for monitoring their own sites. While both work with law enforcement agencies and take down user accounts and pages if they violate the terms of use, the definition of a violation is left up to each organization to define.

Wheeler did say he could use his position at the FCC to press Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the guidelines established by specific sites. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

"I will call Mark Zuckerberg this afternoon to raise the issue you've raised and the issue Mr. Barton raised. And I'm sure he is concerned as well and he'll have some thoughts," Wheeler said.

ISIS, which has increasingly seen Facebook and Twitter accounts which distribute violent content removed, has also proved adept at moving quickly to new platforms. A series of new channels on Telegram, a privacy-focused messaging app, has become the latest platform to be used by ISIS. For now, Telegram co-founder Pavel Durov has resisted pressure to take down the channels, writing on his page on the social network Vkontakte, “I propose to ban words. There is information that they communicate with the terrorists.”

On Monday, Russian authorities considered a request to close access to the Telegram site, though that would carry its own technical challenges. Durov did not answer repeated requests from BuzzFeed News for comment.

Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F

Contact Sheera Frenkel at sheera.frenkel@buzzfeed.com.

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