Should online bomb manuals be permitted?

Case Type:



There are websites which purport to contain information on how to build and use explosives, including quite powerful bombs from relatively ordinary materials.


You, the general public.


On April 19, 1995, 168 people died when a fuel oil-and-fertilizer bomb exploded in front of the Federal Building at Oklahoma City.

Examine a purported bomb manual for yourself; try doing a search on "anarchists cookbook" in a search engine such as Infoseek. The manual moves around a lot, and there'll be many ads for print versions, but if you keep looking, you should find an online copy. After you look it over, you might want to review the Anarchist Cookbook FAQ.

For reporting on the issue, including discussion of actual incidents of kids making bombs from 'net instructions and legislative proposals for criminalizing 'net publication of bomb info, see the following New York Times articles. (Notes: If these links no longer work, try doing a search on "bomb and internet" on the Cybertimes webpage. if you've never used the NYT site before, you will have to go through a registration process. )

  • "Like Smut, Terrorism Prompts Calls for Limiting Expression on the Net," Kevin Gori (6/23/96).
  • "Anti-Terrorism Measures Worry Free-Speech Advocates," Pamela Mendels, (8/1/96).
  • "When Bomb Blueprints Are Protected Speech," Christine Biederman (8/1/96).

United States v. Progressive, Inc., 467 F.Supp. 990 (1979), S&C 361: a federal district court prohibits the publication of information, drawn from unclassified sources, on how to construct an atomic bomb; online opinion courtesy of Tedford, Freedom of Speech in the United States.

See chapter 7 of Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace, by Jonathan Wallace and Mark Mangan (Henry Holt: 1996), which covers the 1995 debate over the issue.

Cass Sunstein, law professor at the University of Chicago, has argued that it would be constitutional to ban bomb-making information from mass media distribution; see "Is Violent Speech a Right?" in The American Prospect, (Summer, 1995): 24-37, with replies including by Frank Haiman (Fall, 1995): 16.


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Copyright © 1998 Jean Goodwin. All rights reserved.
Last updated 10 January 1998
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