By making it illegal to visit a website that the government considers dangerous, Posner’s law would go even beyond the Sedition Act. And it could lead to a vast surveillance infrastructure tracing what we all do on the Internet. Enforcing it would require tracking the IP address of every person who visits certain sites, then matching those IP address to specific individuals, investigating them and prosecuting them.
Today, the law would only target websites related to ISIS. But laws have a way of metastasizing once they’re passed. Who will be targeted tomorrow? Over the last several decades, there has been a substantial amount of violence that could be considered domestic terrorism against doctors and organizations that support a woman’s right to abortion, including the recent mass shooting in Colorado. Using Posner’s reasoning, could the government ban anti-abortion sites and prosecute people who visit them?
You may dismiss Posner’s ideas as those of someone on the fringes of legal respectability. But he’s anything but a legal outsider. He is a professor at one of the country’s most prestigious law schools. Between 2009 and 2013, he was the fourth most-cited legal scholar in the United States.
Today, Posner admits, his proposed law would likely be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But Stone, his fellow professor at the University of Chicago, warned in The New York Times, “Five years from now, who knows? You can imagine a scenario in which things get so terrible that you start watering down the protections.”
Let’s hope he’s wrong. The Internet in its current form couldn’t survive it — and neither would the U.S. Constitution.
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