Police given CD-ROM to track digital hate

TORONTO — A CD-ROM collection of online resources encouraging hateful and illegal activity will be used to train police officers and educators about the Internet’s role as a tool to promote racism and terrorism.

The Los Angeles-based Simon

Wiesenthal Center Tuesday launched Digital Hate 2002, an analysis of 200 Web sites it says offer examples of how extremist groups worldwide work online to recruit and communicate with members. Spokespeople from the Simon Wiesenthal Center visited Toronto to discuss the fifth edition of the CD-ROM while honouring a London, Ont. police officer for his efforts in combatting Internet hate crimes.

Digital Hate highlights 11 Canadian Web sites, including the National Skinhead Front, the Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Society and Combat 18 Blood and Honour Canada. It also breaks down organizations across the United States and in Europe and Asia by geography and content. Sub-categories including Manipulating History and Digital Lies Post 9/11. Besides Web sites, the CD-ROM also examines hate games such as “”Kaboom,”” which puts players into the role of a suicide bomber. Some sites went far beyond game-playing. One of them, now disconnected, offered an online enrolment form to become a real-life suicide bomber.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the organization whittled down its list from a pool of 3,300 “”problematic sites”” where ideology or intent to promote hate was unclear. He said the CD-ROM was being offered free of charge to law enforcement agencies, schools and the media.

“”We just followed the cheese to see where the rats went,”” he said. “”The Internet has become the paste that pulls together these movements . . . it validates the ‘lone wolf’ aspect of many of the individuals who otherwise wouldn’t connect with one another.””

Combatting hate crime online is particularly difficult given some of the legal differences between various countries. In a demonstration of the CD-ROM, for example, Cooper displayed a U.S.-based Web site in which the Microsoft Windows logo morphed into a Nazi swastika. A banner headline above the logo declared “”Business is War,”” and called the product “”Final Solution 2000.””

The U.S. First Amendment protects free speech, which sometimes puts legal hurdles in the way of protecting against digital hate, Cooper said. “”Canadians seem to ‘get it’ in terms of free speech,”” where you draw the line,”” he said. “”If this site had been hosted in Canada, it would have taken one phone call and it would have come down.””

As it turned out, Cooper said Microsoft was reluctant to get itself in a courtroom situation where the outcome was far from certain, even though the “”Final Solution”” site tampered with its copyright. Instead, the Simon Wiesenthal Center approached Prodigy, which hosted the site, and after looking at provisions prohibiting racism in its Terms of Service of Agreement, took the site down.

Each year the Simon Wiesenthal Center trains about 10,000 law enforcement officials on Internet hate through its Museum of Tolerance as well as local affiliates such as the Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal.

Terry Wilson, a detective with the London Police Force who was given an award for his work against hate crimes, said the CD-ROM offered a valuable resource.

“”We’ve got guys in fraud, vice and other areas who deal with us, and the learning curve is pretty steep,”” he said. “”It’s a massive hurdle.””

Cooper acknowledged that the CD-ROM could eventually fall into the hands of the same extremists it catalogues, which is why the organization has changed the way it presents the data. The CD-ROM does not contain active links, for example, as previous versions did. Though it does offer police some online training, security concerns have kept the organization from offering Digital Hate as a browser-based database.

“”Ultimately there isn’t any idea we can keep off the Internet,”” he said. “”But we can marginalize it.””

Wilson agreed. “”We just have to show the people who abuse the Internet that they’re not anonymous.””

Cooper said the CD-ROM was in keeping with the mandate of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s namesake, a 93-year-old former Nazi hunter. “”He said it was good to remember hate crimes of the past, but he was also an activist,”” he said. “”He wanted to focus on the present and future as much as the past.””

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