The Privacy Crisis – The Perfect Excuse To Restrict Freedom of the Press

by Oletta Branstiter


Are you a “media influencer”? 

If so, the U.S. government is very interested in your online activities. The Department of Homeland Security needs a private contractor to provide “24/7 access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.” in order to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.” from Forbes.com

Hmmm. Couldn’t anything be considered a “particular event”? Haven’t we all become “bloggers”? 

According to the Forbes article, “the United States government, traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom, is about to compile a list of professional journalists and ‘top media influencers,’ which would seem to include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor what they’re putting out to the public.”

“Never let a crisis go to waste.” This infamous quote is attributed to Rahm Emanuel during the Obama administration, but he was just revealing what all autocratic administrations are always thinking.

Why an opportunity has just presented itself! The government is outraged over the revelation that “Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, may have had information on about 87 million Facebook users without the users’ knowledge.”

According to CNN:

“Facebook has said the data was initially collected by a professor for academic purposes in line with its rules. The information was later transferred to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica, in violation of Facebook’s policies.”

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, the largest social media platform, has agreed to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee of Congress on April 11. A prepared statement by Greg Walden (R-OR) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) acknowledged:

“This hearing will be an important opportunity to shed light on critical consumer data privacy issues and help all Americans better understand what happens to their personal information online.” from TechCrunch.com

Our representatives care about us. They want our privacy to be protected.

Especially if they can use it for their own means, of course.

Under the guise of protecting the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure, this Media Monitoring Services contractor will provide to the government “contact details and any other information that could be relevant,” including “sentiment”. Forbes.com

CBS reports: “After an outcry on social media, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman tweeted ‘this is nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media.’”

“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

“Throughout history, the most severe restrictions placed on the press has occurred during times of social stress…” From Freedom of the Press – Further Readings – Court, Public, Government, and Printing

Oh, but that couldn’t happen here, right? The Trump administration would never use the current “social stress” to violate our rights, would it?

“The first restrictions by Congress on the press was through the Sedition Act of 1798, based on English common law, which prohibited malicious criticism of the government or government officials.” (ibid.)

“The Civil War in the early 1860s also brought press censorship through martial law. Again, no legal cases resulted. World War I brought a new set of federal and state sedition laws. Several newspaper editors were convicted under the laws and legal challenges this time did result. The Supreme Court uniformly rejected freedom ofthe press claims.” (ibid.)

“In the 1931 Near v. Minnesota ruling, the [Supreme] Court for the first time struck down a state law as an unconstitutional prior restraint on the press. The Court identified four situations where government censorship through prior restraint might be warranted: (1) protection of crucial war information; (2) banning obscene materials; (3) preventing the incitement of violence against the community or overthrow of the government; and, (4) protecting privacy.” (ibid.)

And there you have it. According to the Supreme Court “protecting privacy” is a legitimate excuse to suspend our rights.

The Trump administration can bawl, bellow, and bark about “Fake News!” all day long, but the real bite is found in the historical legal precedent of flouting the unalienable right to a free press, found in the First Amendment.

Don’t think it can’t happen again, for all the wrong reasons.

 

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