16 June 2004
Justice Official Says Internet Regulation Not Answer to Hate
Keynote speech by Assistant Attorney General Bryant
at OSCE conference
The United States believes that government efforts to regulate
bias-motivated speech on the Internet are "fundamentally mistaken," U.S.
Assistant Attorney General Daniel Bryant told an OSCE meeting on
the issue in Paris June 16.
Bryant urged conference participants to seek ways of combating
hate or bias-motivated crimes while at the same time upholding
freedom of speech and expression. The ultimate goal is not to end
hate speech but to end the biases behind it, he said, "and the
best way to eliminate prejudice is not through the restriction
of expression. It is instead to confront those expressing bias
by addressing their fallacious arguments head on."
Acknowledging that the American approach to hate speech differs
significantly from that of many other countries, Bryant described
the constitutional tradition and restraints shaping the U.S. view
and the reasons why the United States is "respectfully unable to
sign the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime Concerning
the Criminalisation of Acts of a Racist and Xenophobic Nature Committed
Through Computer Systems."
He stressed, however, that the United States will vigorously enforce
its laws when individuals "cross the line on the Internet from
protected speech to criminal conduct." Furthermore, the Justice
Department works with state and local authorities to prosecute
perpetrators of bias-motivated violence, and in the past four years
has brought charges against 154 defendants.
"The problems that we will address at this meeting cannot be and
should not be addressed through government regulation," Bryant
said. "We must respond ... through other means." He recommended
using the Internet as an educational tool "to promote tolerance
and to combat hate crimes," and developing best practices for both
educating young people and "encouraging parents to exercise greater
supervision and control over their children's use of the Internet."
Bryant also strongly urged the OSCE participating states to require
the collection of data on bias-motivated violence "as an element
of their strategy for combating hate crimes."
For more statements by the U.S. Delegation, see http://www.usosce.rpo.at/internet/index.htm.
Following is the text of Bryant's remarks as provided by the U.S.
Mission to the OSCE in Vienna:
United States Mission to the OSCE
OSCE MEETING ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RACIST, XENOPHOBIC AND
ANTI-SEMITIC PROPAGANDA ON THE INTERNET AND HATE CRIMES
As prepared for delivery by Daniel Bryant, Assistant Attorney
General, Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice
Paris, June 16, 2004
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, Ambassadors and Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
it is an honor and a privilege to address this important meeting
on behalf of the Government of the United States.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been
at the forefront of efforts to promote liberty, democracy, and
tolerance across the European continent and around the globe. Through
its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR),
field missions, and other institutions, the OSCE has worked to
end ethnic strife and to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms
as well as equal treatment under the rule of law. It is therefore
fitting that the OSCE has convened this meeting where we will focus
on the vital task of combating hate or bias-motivated crimes while
at the same time upholding the freedoms of speech and expression.
We convene in Paris, a city that sixty years ago today remained
occupied by one of the most evil regimes that mankind has ever
known, a regime animated at its core by a murderous ideology of
intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Today, however,
governments from across Europe gather in this city with their allies
from across the Atlantic standing united in their determination
to combat racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. This contrast
serves as a reminder that the progress we have made over the last
sixty years in advancing the causes of tolerance, liberty, and
human dignity is nothing short of remarkable. But so long as intolerance
and oppression exist anywhere in the world, there is more that
needs to be done.
In the United States, for example, we have made considerable strides
in the last sixty years, both in ending the scourge of legal discrimination
as well as in reducing the prevalence of racism, xenophobia, and
anti-Semitism in our society. But sadly, we are reminded on a regular
basis in our country that too many hearts remain burdened with
intolerance and too many individuals are victimized as a consequence.
In 2002, for example, United States law enforcement agencies reported
7,462 incidents of crimes motivated by a bias against race, religion,
sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, or disability.
The two most common motives in these incidents were those of bias
against African-Americans and Jewish-Americans.
In the United States, the law has mandated the collection of this
information and other data concerning bias-motivated crimes since
1990, and the federal government publishes an annual report summarizing
this information. We believe that the reporting and compilation
of this data is critical to government efforts to develop effective
measures to combat hate crime and serves to raise awareness of
the problem as well. In order to implement a successful strategy
for reducing bias-motivated crime, we must know how often such
crimes are occurring, where they are occurring, and why they are
occurring. We therefore urge all participating States to require
the collection and reporting of this information on an annual basis
as an element of their strategy for combating hate crimes.
We also believe that one of the best ways to deter and thus prevent
bias-motivated crimes is to prosecute and punish those engaging
in such criminal behavior to the full extent of the law. It is
not enough simply to have laws on the books prohibiting hate crimes
or providing for sentencing enhancements for crimes motivated by
bias; those laws must be vigorously enforced, and we urge all participating
States to take decisive action in this area as well.
In the United States, the responsibility for prosecuting the perpetrators
of bias-motivated crimes is divided between state and local governments
and the federal government, and these entities work together in
a cooperative fashion to ensure that such crimes are prosecuted
effectively. In many cases, state and local authorities take the
lead in the investigation and prosecution. In other cases, however,
such as those where perpetrators attempt to interfere with a victim's
ability to attend a public school, maintain employment, or take
advantage of public accommodations or public services, the federal
government possesses the primary responsibility. The United States
Department of Justice vigorously prosecutes those committing bias-motivated
crimes in these areas; in the last four years alone, we have brought
charges against 154 defendants.
To give just one example, the Department of Justice last year
prosecuted two defendants affiliated with a skinhead group for
assaulting several young African-American and Hispanic students
as they were walking home from a high school football game. These
defendants verbally threatened their victims and used racial epithets
while chasing them through the streets of a Chicago, Illinois suburb.
After surrounding a terrified African-American girl, one defendant
placed a knife to her throat while threatening to kill her. In
this case, thanks to the Department's efforts, the defendants pleaded
guilty and were sentenced to prison terms.
A main focus of this meeting is the possible link between such
bias-motivated crimes and racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic
speech on the Internet. As the United States Supreme Court, among
others, has noted, "[C]ontent on the Internet is as diverse as
human thought." And we believe that this will continue to be the
case no matter what actions may be taken by government. So long
as intolerance enjoys a home in any hearts and minds, it will manage
to find a home somewhere on the Internet. As we discuss the presence
of racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic speech on the Internet,
however, it is important that we not lose sight of the bigger picture.
Examined as a whole, the Internet is not the enemy of liberty,
tolerance and individual dignity. On the contrary, the Internet
holds enormous potential to empower individuals with knowledge,
enhance communication around the globe, and erase the ignorance
and misunderstanding that fosters intolerance. The astounding amount
and variety of information that the Internet makes available to
the citizens of our respective nations with the touch of a few
keystrokes would amaze those living in past generations. To give
just one example, an individual can now browse from the comfort
of his or her own living room the content of newspapers from around
the world on a daily basis. But the Internet allows for far more
than the passive receipt of information in isolation. It is also
facilitating unprecedented opportunities for people around the
globe to gather, exchange ideas, learn about each other, and, yes,
even argue and debate in cyberspace.
The access to information and communication provided by the Internet
is reinvigorating democracy in the United States. Voters are surfing
the web to learn more about candidates and issues, citizens have
become desktop publishers and are expressing their views through
weblogs, and numerous Americans are taking advantage of exciting
new avenues for participating in the public discourse through a
diverse range of websites and usergroups. Moreover, as this gathering
fully appreciates, this phenomenon is by no means limited to the
Unfortunately, however, some governments around the globe do not
see the Internet as a resource to be embraced but rather as a threat
to be feared. They seek to deny their citizens access to the Internet
or to limit such access by strictly filtering those websites to
which their citizens may be exposed. We believe that these courses
of action are seriously mistaken and antithetical both to the values
for which the OSCE stands, including the freedom of opinion and
expression, and to the commitments made by participating States.
The Government of the United States has taken a number of concrete
steps to promote access to the Internet in both homes and schools
across our country, and we strongly encourage participating States
to do the same. We believe that access to the wide array of information
and diverse set of opinions available on the Internet will serve
to foster dialogue and understanding, reduce ignorance and prejudice,
and ultimately bring the people of the world closer together.
Like others at this meeting, however, we are appalled by some
of the speech that is transmitted on the Internet. We strongly
condemn and deplore racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic speech
on the Internet just as we condemn and deplore such speech that
is communicated through more traditional means. But, consistent
with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
United States resolutely opposes attempts to suppress or regulate
We recognize, of course, that the American approach to hate speech
differs significantly from the approach to such expression embraced
by many of the countries represented at this meeting. So I would
like to take a moment to set forth the basis of our position. The
First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides,
in part, that Congress shall make no law "abridging the freedom
of speech." As the United States Supreme Court has stated, this
provision embodies our country's "profound national commitment
to the free exchange of ideas." Pursuant to the First Amendment,
the Government of the United States as a general matter may not
restrict speech "because of its message, its ideas, its subject
matter, or its content." The government thus may not restrict or
suppress speech merely because it disapproves of the viewpoint
expressed by a speaker. As a result, although the Government of
the United States deplores racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic
speech, we are constitutionally restrained from restricting such
expression merely because we disagree with it. And let me be clear:
we embrace this principle as an essential component of our constitutional
Robust debate is the cornerstone of our democracy, and we believe
that all individuals must be permitted to add their voices to that
debate. While we may not like what every participant in the debate
will choose to say, democracy is premised, at least in part, on
the notion that the best viewpoints will win out in the marketplace
of ideas. Moreover, once government is given the power to restrict
speech with which it disapproves, where does one draw the line?
While all of us attending this meeting no doubt condemn racism,
xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, granting government the authority
to suppress speech with which it disagrees places the free speech
rights of all individuals holding unpopular viewpoints at risk.
For example, we must always be concerned by the prospect that laws
prohibiting hate speech may be abused by those governments seeking
to suppress political dissent and believe that studies should be
undertaken to determine whether these laws are, in fact, being
misused in any nation as a means of silencing government critics.
There is social value, we believe, in allowing those with racist,
xenophobic, and anti-Semitic views to express their opinions and
ideas freely. While it is certainly possible to restrict bias-motivated
speech and punish those engaging in such expression, such measures
only address particular manifestations of prejudice; they obviously
do not eliminate the prejudice itself. And so long as individuals
hold biased or prejudiced views, it is in society's interest to
know that fact so that appropriate measures can be taken to address
Our ultimate goal, after all, is not to eliminate racist, xenophobic,
and anti-Semitic speech. Rather, it is to end such biases, and
the best way to eliminate prejudice is not through the restriction
of expression. It is instead to confront those expressing bias
by addressing their fallacious arguments head on.
Our experience in the United States does not indicate that respecting
the freedoms of speech and expression, on the one hand, and combating
prejudice, on the other hand, are mutually conflicting goals; indeed,
we believe they go hand in hand. The United States today is a much
more tolerant society than it was fifty years ago; in the intervening
time period, the amount of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism
present in society at large has been reduced dramatically and strong
civil rights laws have been enacted to forbid invidious discrimination.
Significantly, this progress has occurred during a period when
the freedoms of speech and expression were steadily broadened.
Indeed, some of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions
of this era expanding the freedoms of speech and expression worked
to the advantage of those in the civil rights movement struggling
to achieve racial equality.
For all of these reasons, we believe that government efforts to
regulate bias-motivated speech on the Internet are fundamentally
mistaken, and this is why the United States is respectfully unable
to sign the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime
Concerning the Criminalisation of Acts of a Racist and Xenophobic
Nature Committed Through Computer Systems.
At the same time, however, the United States has not stood and
will not stand idly by when individuals cross the line on the Internet
from protected speech to criminal conduct. The same Internet capabilities
that are facilitating increased political dialogue and interpersonal
communications are also being used by criminals and terrorists
as tools for conspiring to commit and planning violent acts, as
well as fundraising, and we are committed to vigorously enforcing
the laws forbidding this behavior.
In addition, while the First Amendment protects the right of individuals
to express racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic views and ideas,
it does not protect the right to make criminal threats, whether
those threats are communicated over the Internet, the telephone,
or some other medium. Thus, the Government of the United States
has prosecuted and will continue to prosecute those individuals
using the Internet to make direct and credible threats to engage
in criminal behavior. In one case, for example, an expelled college
student, in an e-mail message sent to Asian-American students at
a university in California, threatened to kill all Asian-Americans
on campus if they did not leave the university. The Department
of Justice filed charges against the expelled student for threatening
to use force to interfere with attendance at a public university.
The student was convicted and sentenced to prison.
Likewise, no matter what an individual's viewpoint may be, the
United States Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment
does not protect advocacy that is directed to inciting imminent
lawless action and likely to incite such action. While this is
a tough test to satisfy and actual examples of incitement meeting
this standard are few and far between, the United States stands
ready to prosecute those engaging in illegal incitement, if and
when such cases arise.
For the most part, however, the problems that we will address
at this meeting cannot be and should not be addressed through government
regulation. Rather, we must respond to those using the Internet
to promote racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism through other
means. In particular, the United States looks forward to working
with other governments and NGOs at this meeting on identifying
ways that we can harness the Internet's enormous potential as an
educational tool to promote tolerance and to combat hate crimes.
We also believe it is important that the participants at this meeting
focus on developing best practices for both educating young people
in order to prepare them for bias-motivated speech they may encounter
while surfing the web as well as empowering and encouraging parents
to exercise greater supervision and control over their children's
use of the Internet.
Over the next two days, members of our delegation will set forth
specific suggestions for ways to combat bias-motivated crimes while
at the same time respecting the freedoms of speech and expression.
But we also need to learn from your wisdom and are here to listen.
Finally, although we will undoubtedly have our differences on
some of the issues to be discussed at this meeting, we all share
the same noble goal: the elimination of racism, xenophobia, and
anti-Semitism. And it is my sincere hope that by engaging in a
substantive, open, and respectful dialogue over the next two days,
we can move one step closer towards achieving that objective.
Thank you for the honor of inviting me to deliver these remarks
to you this morning, and I look forward to meeting and speaking
with as many of you as possible during the remainder of the meeting.