Monday, May 2, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Attorney Jonathan Emord
May 2, 2011

An Enemy of Liberty

In February of this year Senators Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, and Tom Carper introduced the Cybsersecurity and Internet Freedom Act (CIFA). CIFA permits the federal government to limit internet traffic when the President declares a national cyber emergency. The measure also calls for the Department of Homeland Security to create a list of the systems and resources that are deemed “critical infrastructure” that would be directed in unspecified ways by the government in the event of a cyber emergency. Largely free of government control, the internet has rapidly become the greatest interactive medium for free speech and press that the world has ever known. By sponsoring this bill, Lieberman, Collins and Carper seek to give the President control over that medium at his discretion during times of an actual or perceived cyber emergency. The First Amendment forbids that action. CIFA is patently unconstitutional. We should strenuously oppose the bill.

Under CIFA, if the President declares a national cyber emergency, he may limit public access to the internet for thirty day periods renewable thereafter for three consecutive thirty day periods. That 120 period, when broken by a matter of days, could be recommenced again. By controlling access, the President may alter what is said and who may speak. Thus, the bill enables the President to exercise the controls that can deny internet access to unwanted speakers based on their unwanted content.

If CIFA had an analog counterpart, it would be a statute to permit the President to limit during a perceived or actual emergency who may write for, and the number of pages that can appear in, newspapers nationwide. There is no emergency too great to justify the exercise of that unconstitutional power whereby government replaces private editorial freedom, whether that replacement lasts for a minute, an hour, a week, a month, or a year. The media is liberated from government restraint by our Constitution. So liberated, it can perform an essential function of critically examining government men and measures insulated from their retaliation by the First Amendment barrier. When operating properly, the media is an investigatory body that ferrets out government corruption, exposes abuses of power, reveals hidden agendas, and informs the electorate so that we may demand that government account for its actions and throw out of power those who disserve our interests.

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