Sen. Wyden Speaks On Online Terrorists Activity

By Geoff Norcross (OPB)
Dec. 14, 2015 6 p.m.

Shortly after the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, one of the suspects posted on Facebook a pledge of allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS.

Saying the post violated its own standards, Facebook took the post - and the entire profile of Tashfeen Malik - down.


Now, two senators — Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Burr of North Carolina — have proposed a bill that would require tech companies like Facebook to report online terrorist activity to the authorities.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is not a fan of the bill, and he lays out a couple of his reservations.

Q&A with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden

Sen. Wyden:I think there are a number of factors. One, I think there's almost a perverse incentive to actually invite the companies to put their head in the sand, because if they don't know anything, they don't have to report anything. But I think the basic proposition is that they think that these companies should help take down these announcements. And if you look at the San Bernardino situation, what the officials seem to be saying to the press is that's exactly already what is happening. Ms. Malik put her ISIS pledge on an account with a different name, Facebook said it took it off. The FBI has said that this wouldn't have made a big difference.

Geoff Norcross: Yeah, but tech companies are already required to share certain illegal activities with the government, and child pornography comes to mind. Why would this be different?


Sen. Wyden

: First of all, I think that there are different standards with respect to child pornography, different standards under the law. And the questions is, is there a problem? And Mr. Comey, first in the San Bernardino case, number one...

Geoff Norcross: ...and you're talking about James Comey, the director of the FBI...

Sen. Wyden: Right. And when he talked about tech companies generally, he said they had been cooperating. They have already indicated that they were going to recognize that it was important to try to assist the government when there was a terrorist threat. And in the case that I just mentioned, which of course is the most direct case, Facebook said it took the profile down right away. The question is do you want social media companies to in effect become government agencies, and that's something I have real reservations about, particularly when — as I just mentioned — Mr. Comey said the system worked pretty darn well as it related to what happened in San Bernardino.

Geoff Norcross:You serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, so you have access to privileged information sometimes. While I know you can't be specific, can you give me an idea of just what the government is catching in its nets when it comes to terrorist organizations and what they're putting online?

Sen. Wyden: Well, let's talk about some of the areas that I think need to be improved, because that's a matter of public record. There is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillances Act, which, in effect, has the government target a terrorist overseas, a foreign threat overseas. I thought that was appropriate. But now as communications systems around the world begin to get merged, we're having more Americans, presumably law-abiding Americans, get swept up in those searches. I want to make sure that while we appropriately target a foreign terrorist, we don't have law-abiding Americans swept up in those searches.

Geoff Norcross: How do you do that?

Sen. Wyden: What you do is you say, as we have said for many many years in this country, is with respect to those Americans that are getting swept up in the searches for foreign terrorists, what we say is that you have to get a warrant unless you have reasonable belief that they are involved in terrorist activity. It's a great system that the founding fathers came up with, and I keep saying we ought to keep building on it.

Geoff Norcross: Senator Wyden, thank you so much.

Sen. Wyden:Let's do it again.