On Tuesday, Macon Phillips, President Obama’s Director of New Media, wrote on the White House blog asking citizens to rat out fellow citizens who are spreading “disinformation” about Obama’s plans for more government control over the health care system. Phillips wrote:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.
One wonders, what constitutes “fishy” speech or “disinformation”? Is it anything that runs counter to what the White House wants you to think? And what, precisely, is the White House planning to do about someone who’s speech has been “flagged”?
It turns out, even asking for citizens to report on each other may be illegal. According to the Department of Justice, “the purpose of the Privacy Act is to balance the government’s need to maintain information about individuals with the rights of individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasions of their privacy stemming from federal agencies’ collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information about them.”
Further, anything is considered a “personal record” if it identifies an individual (an e-mail address would qualify), and “federal agency” specifically includes “the Executive Office of the President.”
I’m no lawyer, but it sure sounds like the White House is violating the law by asking people to snitch on their friends and neighbors for engaging in “fishy” political speech. Anyone want to try this one in court?
In the meantime, I’m going to report myself. I’m obviously not thinking the way our Dear Leader wants...
(Wall Street Journal) Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn is taking issue with a Tuesday posting on the official White House blog in which the Obama administration asks supporters to report back when they receive “an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy” to an official e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I am not aware of any precedent for a president asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed ‘fishy’ or otherwise inimical to the White House’s political interests,” Cornyn writes today in a harshly worded letter to President Barack Obama in which he asks the president to immediately halt the effort.
It’s not the first time the Obama operation has asked supporters to report back on misinformation spread about the president on the Web—but those efforts were largely conducted through his campaign operation and more recently through the party’s political arm at the Democratic National Committee.
Cornyn, a former member of the Texas state Supreme Court, further suggests that the data that is collected by the White House could “raise the specter of a data collection program.”
“As Congress debates health care reform and other critical policy matters, citizen engagement must not be chilled by fear of government monitoring the exercise of free speech rights.”
If the effort continues, the Texas Republican is asking the administration to detail to Congress and the public the protocols employed by the White House on what they are doing with the data. He further inquires if the administration intends to notify the citizens reported for “fishy” speech.
“Do your own past statements qualify as ‘disinformation’?” Cornyn concludes, “For example, is it ‘disinformation’ to note that in 2003 you said: ‘I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan’?”
More Fear Injected Into the Media Void about Regular People