Should President Obama Control The Internet?
Sunday, July 19, 2009
President Barack Obama wants to control the internet.
And if our President has his way, this website may soon be under legal attack from the White House.
Since the internet’s emergence in the private sector (it actually began in the public sector, through developments at the U.S. Department of Defense back in the 1960’s), officials in our U.S. Government have generally viewed the internet as a good and necessary thing.
In 1996, when former Sun Microsystems Officer John Gage began a movement to get high-tech companies involved in providing internet infrastructure for the world’s schools, libraries, and clinics, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore marked the first ever “NetDay” celebration by traveling to Concord, California, and spending the day re-wiring a high school campus with computer cables.
Similarly, both President Clinton and President George W. Bush pushed for “every school in America” to be connected to the world wide web, and internet connectivity generally flourished around the globe under the leadership of both Presidents, and by both public and private funding means.
But today, things are different. After approximately seven months in office, President Obama controls, in varying degrees, General Motors, Chrysler, and a variety of financial services companies. He is seeking to control, among other things, the health care industry, the energy industry, and the amount of money that business executives are paid by their employers.
And now it appears that the President who ran the most successful, web-savvy political campaign in world history, wants to curtail what other people can do online.
Cass Sunstein, an American legal scholar and Harvard Law Professor, has been appointed by President Obama to head up the “White House Office Of Information And Regulatory Affairs.” His title is sufficiently broad and ambiguous, but he wields plenty of power. And with advance copies circulating of his new book “On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done,” Americans who still care about their rights to “freedom of speech” should be paying close attention.
You owe it to yourself to review what has been reported in both the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal about Mr. Sunstein, and the ideas that he advances in his book. And while we don’t know precisely what Obama and Sunstein will be doing, many of the thoughts that Mr. Sunstein expresses about the internet seem consistent with President Obama’s proclivity to control things, generally.
Perhaps most disturbing is Mr. Sunstein’s vision for the future of web content, as he argues for a so-called “notice and take down” law. Under this provision, those who operate websites - - The Washington Post, radio stations, private bloggers, and perhaps even you, yourself -we would all be required “take down falsehoods upon notice” from the U.S. government.
And not only would the original content of websites be scrutinized by the government for “falsehoods,” website operators would also be held responsible for the content of “posts” created by the website’s visitors and readers. At first blush it may seem that, for a web operator to be held accountable for content generated by “posters,” is completely untenable. But that may very well be Mr. Sunstein’s goal - - to create an “untenable situation” for website operators - given his assertion that “a ‘chilling effect’ on those who would spread destructive falsehoods can be an excellent idea..”
But who shall determine what, exactly, is “true” and “false?” Mr. Sunstein laments the supposed “lie” that emerged during last year’s presidential race, that “Barack Obama pals around with terrorists.” Despite that fact that a friendship between Obama and known domestic terrorist William Ayers was something that both men acknowledged, Sunstein alludes to the notion that this was one of those “destructive falsehoods” of the sort that needs to be policed.
As I was recently talking about this matter on-air at Arizona’s NewsTalk 92-3 KTAR radio, a caller to the show observed that “there’s no way this could be legal, or constitutional..” Thoughtful Americans of all sorts will immediately view this situation through the lenses of constitutionally guaranteed rights.
But issues of “legality” don’t seem to matter, at times, with the Obama Administration. In March of this year, there was nothing illegal about executives of the AIG Corporation being paid bonuses that they earned from their employer, but they were harassed and publicly belittled, nonetheless. President Obama himself demonized them, while dozens of Obama supporters “demonstrated” in front of the private residences of the executives, alleging that it was “unfair” for those executives to be making “so much money.”
In a similar way, it appears that the Obama Administration may be ushering-in an era of harassment for website operators. Regardless of what U.S. courts may or may not say about this in the future, a “notice and take down” letter from the White House could have quite a “chilling effect” for today.
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