The bill was introduced to the House on April 19 2007, and passed on Oct 23, 2007. It was introduced to the Senate on August 2, 2007 as S-1959. The bill defines some terms including "violent radicalization," "homegrown terrorism," and "ideologically based violence," which have provoked controversy from some quarters. Although Section 899F of HR 1955 specifically prohibits "the violation of Civil Rights and Liberties in the enforcement of the bill," critics claim its enactment would pave the way for violations of Civil Rights and Liberties.
Representative Ron Paul (R - TX), who was not present at the time of the vote subsequently rose on the House floor to express his opposition to the bill.
Reports that the Senate bill is supposedly dead are unsubstantiated.
http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_william__080123_s_1959_is_still_in_c.htm January 23, 2008 at 12:29:42
The bill has provoked controversy on several fronts.
One is the perceived overly broad and vague definitions of "force", “home grown terrorism” and “violent radicalization” (section 899A). Critics charge that the vagueness in these definitions would permit the government to classify many types of venerated American political activity, such as civil disobedience, as terrorism. Critics frequently cite Section 899A which reads, in part: "The use, planned use, or threatened use, of force ...to coerce the ..government, (or) civilian population ..in furtherance of political or social objectives", as particularly problematic. They argue that major societal reforms which are now accepted but were perceived at the time as threatening to the government, such as civil rights, suffrage, and others, would be classified as terrorism.
Another source of concerns centers around a series of “Congressional findings” (Section 899B) from a House Subcommittee held on November 6, 2007 and chaired by Rep. Jane Harman, the bill's sponsor. The Subcommittee heard testimony which equated the 9/11 "truth movement" with terrorist propaganda and the committee's findings specify, among other things, that terrorism exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security, (item 2), that the Internet has aided in facilitating home grown terrorism (item 3) and that preventing home grown terrorism cannot be accomplished through traditional law enforcement efforts. (item 6).
'Bill of Rights Defense Committee' describes common concerns:
Much maligned as 'Joe McCarthy rides again', a $22 million boondoggle, the idea to create yet another government entity to study an overblown threat already addressed by the $44 billion-a-year U.S. intelligence community, not to mention countless think tanks and authors, was the brainchild of Rep. Jane Harman , D-Calif. A few years ago local police and the FBI broke up a prison-based plot to bomb synagogues in the name of jihad in her district. Sen. Susan Collins , R-Maine, introduced a companion measure, but it was doomed by a lack of specificity on who the commission’s targets were, among other problems. http://www.bordc.org/threats/legislation/index.php#intelligence
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), addressed the bill in he House on Dec. 5, 2007 saying: "This seems to be an unwise and dangerous solution in search of a real problem. Previous acts of ideologically motivated violence, though rare, have been resolved successfully using law enforcement techniques, existing laws against violence, and our court system," despite the fact that this bill does not "solve" anything and enacts no new laws of or pertaining to speech in the United States.
The Baltimore Sun published an opinion article by Professor Emeritus Ralph E. Shaffer and R. William Robinson, titled "Here come the thought police."
The Pioneer Press published an article by Professor Peter Erlinder, pointing out disturbing parallels to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Conservative commentator Devvy Kidd writes: "Since the bill doesn't specifically define what an extremist belief system is, it is entirely up to the interpretation of the government.... Essentially they have defined violent radicalization as thought crime.
Kamau Franklin of the Center for Constitutional Rights said that the bill "concentrates on the internet as a place where terrorist rhetoric or ideas have been coming across into the United States and to American citizens.”
The Hartford Advocate, noting that all of Connecticut's Representatives had voted for the bill, sought to interview one of them, but reported that none of them would comment on the record, personally or through a spokesperson, about their reasons for voting in favor. The Advocate concluded that the problem with the bill was "not that the bill threatens anything specific, but that it’s far too vague.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement saying:, "Law enforcement should focus on action, not thought. We need to worry about the people who are committing crimes rather than those who harbor beliefs that the government may consider to be extreme.
The National Lawyers Guild and the Society of American Law Teachers issued a joint statement opposing the Bill: "The National Lawyers Guild and the Society of American Law Teachers strongly urge the Senate to refuse to pass the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007." Details about their objections can be read here
The John Birch Society wrote in an Action Alert: "the legislation could attack First Amendment rights by mandating the government to clamp down on free speech online, among other things.
Harman chaired a November 6, 2007 hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment on “Using the Web as a Weapon: the Internet as a Tool for Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism.” In her statement before the hearing Harman tied its subject to Resolution 1955.
In December 2007 the United States House Committee on Homeland Security released a "fact sheet" entitled " Understanding HR 1955: The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 which elaborates on the rationale and purpose of the bill and includes a "Myth vs. Fact" section offering rebuttals to the perception that the bill would "criminalize constitutionally-protected behavior" or "lead to Internet censorship".