Rehashed bill could force tech companies to report 'terrorist activity'

A bill has been introduced that, should it become law, will force tech companies like Facebook to report 'terrorist activity' to law enforcement agencies. The bill was introduced by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Chairman Richard Burr, who stress that such companies won't have to "monitor customers or undertake any additional action" to hunt down suspected terrorists. The new bill was spurred by reports that the San Bernardino shooter had pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook.

This isn't the first time such a bill has been introduced; it is, in fact, an updated version of a previous bill that had been abandoned due to extensive criticism. According to critics, forcing social networks to report terrorist activity would turn them into surveillance and policing entities — a notion as bad for the businesses as for their users.

Hence the new bill's emphasis on lack of monitoring — something that has done little to reassure the public. The big question, of course, is what the bill considers 'terrorist activity,' and furthermore what the bill legally defines being 'aware' as. It could be as simple as passing on questionable statuses flagged by other users, or something larger like passive scanning.

Privacy and surveillance concerns aside, there are also practical questions that must be addressed. For example, will social network reports have any substantial or worthwhile impact on terrorists' activities? And will the reports, made out an abundance of caution, simply clog up channels and overwhelm law enforcement agencies?

The complete bill is available online.