White House Move to Collect 'Fishy' Info May Be Illegal,
Critics Say The White House has been under fire since posting a blog on Tuesday that asks supporters to e-mail any "fishy" information seen on the Web or received electronically.
The White House strategy of turning supporters into snitches when they see "fishy" information about the health care debate may run afoul of the law, legal experts say.
"The White House is in bit of a conundrum because of this privacy statute that prohibits the White House from collecting data and storing it on people who disagree with it," Judge Andrew Napolitano, a FOX News analyst, said Friday.
"There's also a statute that requires the White House to retain all communications that it receives. It can't try to rewrite history by pretending it didn't receive anything," he said.
"If the White House deletes anything, it violates one statute. If the White House collects data on the free speech, it violates another statute."
Napolitano was referring to the Privacy Act of 1974, which was passed after the Nixon administration used federal agencies to illegally investigate individuals for political purposes. Enacted after Richard Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal, the statute generally prohibits any federal agency from maintaining records on individuals exercising their right to free speech.
The White House has been under fire since it posted a blog on Tuesday that asked supporters to e-mail any "fishy" information seen on the Web or received electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there," the blog said, adding that "since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help."
The blog was posted partly in response to a video posted on the Web that claimed to show Obama explaining how his health care reform plans eventually will eliminate private insurance.
The video, featured on the Drudge Report, strung together selected Obama statements that the White House said were taken out of context.
The White House said it wanted to be made aware of "fishy" comments about its health care plan because it wants to set the record straight. But critics called White House move an Orwellian tactic designed to control the health care debate.
"This is a very troubling attempt to stifle the free speech of Americans who have the constitutional right to express their opinion and concerns about health care," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice. He called on Obama to repudiate his blog.
"This move is an attempt to intimidate those who have legitimate concerns about the health care plan," Sekulow said. "And, worse, it turns the White House into some sort of self-appointed 'speech police.' This new White House reporting program strikes at the heart of the First Amendment and has no place in this important debate about health care."....