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Senators Introduce Social Media Alert Bill

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have re-introduced a bill that would require tech companies to report online terrorist activity to law enforcement.

The Requiring Reporting of Online Terrorist Activity Act comes in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks. It would not require those companies to monitor their customers or ferret out such activity, but to report it "if they became aware of it." The "it" is "terrorist activity such as attack planning, recruitment or distribution of terrorist material."

As an example of the targeted online activity, the Senators cited press reports that Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino shooters, posted her support of ISIS on her Facebook page, which was removed per the company's policy.

The bill is similar to an existing requirement on reporting online child pornography and is a standalone version of a bill that was approved unanimously by the Intelligence Committee back in June as a rider on an intelligence authorization bill, but was removed to allow the legislation to move through the Senate.

The senators suggested that new times call for new measures.

“We’re in a new age where terrorist groups like ISIL are using social media to reinvent how they recruit and plot attacks,” said Feinstein in a statement. “That information can be the key to identifying and stopping terrorist recruitment or a terrorist attack, but we need help from technology companies."

“Terror groups have become adept at taking advantage of social media platforms to spread their message,” said Sen. Burr. “Social media is one part of a large puzzle that law enforcement and intelligence officials must piece together to prevent future attacks."

Software companies were dissing the bill, saying it could create more harm than good.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.