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What Is the Internal Security Act?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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The Internal Security Act typically refers to an emergency law passed in the United States as a reaction to fears about communism. Formally called the Internal Security Act of 1950, and informally cited as the Subversive Activities Control Act, this legislation required fingerprinting and registration of members of the Communist Party in the U.S. President Harry S. Truman vetoed the act, but his veto was overturned by 90 percent of Congress. Other countries also outlaw certain activities that threaten national security under legislation referred to as internal security acts, including India and Malaysia.

In the U.S., the Internal Security Act was introduced by Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran. His action stemmed from a speech by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who announced that more than 200 communists were living in the United States and trying to overthrow the government. The House Un-American Activities Committee was formed to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to research these claims. Language in the Internal Security Act states a worldwide revolution existed to create dictatorships in every county.

During this historical period marked by fears of communist infiltration, more than 300 entertainers and writers were blacklisted as communists or communist sympathizers. These entertainers went to trial, and some lost their passports. The adverse publicity ended their careers in some cases. By 1954, the fervor waned, and most returned to work. Referred to as McCarthyism, this is considered an embarrassing time in history among some scholars.

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President Truman opposed the Internal Security Act because he believed members of the Communist Party were unlikely to register or provide a list of members. He said curtailing free speech represented a step toward totalitarianism that violated the Bill of Rights, a move that would be welcomed by communists. One provision in the legislation allowed the emergency detention of anyone suspected of espionage. The law was later repealed.

In Malaysia, the Internal Security Act became law in 1960. It prohibits organizations that threaten the security of the country, including those trained to use force to promote political ideals. Members of a quasi-military group are subject to arrest, and search and seizure of property.

The Malaysian law also forbids wearing any uniform or emblem representative of a group intending to incite violence or usurp the police or military. These items cannot be possessed, worn, sold, or manufactured if deemed threatening to the country’s security. A person who violates the law can be fined and imprisoned.

That country’s law also forbids publishing, selling, or distributing any information considered subversive. Material that provokes hostility between races, incites violence, or goes against the national interest is included in the definition of banned publications. The law also prohibits speech or written material containing false statements that might cause public alarm.

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