Earlier this week, the federal government’s National Science Foundation, an entity created to encourage the study of science — encouragement that it achieves by awarding grants to scholars and universities — announced that it had awarded a grant to study what people say about themselves and others in social media. The NSF dubbed the project Truthy, a reference to comedian Stephen Colbert’s invention and hilarious use of the word “truthiness.”
The reference to Colbert is cute, and he is a very funny guy; but when the feds get into the business of monitoring speech, it is surely no joke–it is a nightmare. It is part of the Obama administration’s persistent efforts to monitor communication and scrutinize the expressions of opinions it hates and fears.
We already know the National Security Agency has the digital versions of all telephone conversations and emails sent to, from, or within the U.S. since 2005. Edward Snowden’s revelations of all this are credible and substantiated, and the government’s denials are weak and unavailing — so weak and unavailing that many NSA agents disbelieve them.
But the government’s unbridled passion to monitor us has become insatiable. Just two months ago, the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses broadcasters, threatened to place federal agents in cable television newsrooms so they can see how stories are generated and produced. The FCC doesn’t even regulate cable; yet it threatened to enhance its own authority by monitoring cable companies from the inside.
What’s going on here?
What’s going on here, and has been going on since President Obama took office in January 2009, is a government with little or no fidelity to basic constitutional norms. There is no defense under the Constitution to any aspect of the government’s — federal, state, regional, local, or hybrid; or any entity owned or controlled by any government; or any entity that exercises the government’s coercive powers or spends or receives its money — monitoring of the expressive behavior of anyone in the U.S., not in a newsroom, on social media, or anywhere else.
The NSF’s stated purpose of the Truthy squad is to look for errors in speech, particularly errors that fuel hatred or political extremes. This monitoring — this so-called search for error — is totalitarian and directly contradicts well-grounded Supreme Court jurisprudence, for several reasons.
First, for the government to gather information — public or private — on any person, the Constitution requires that the government have “articulable suspicion” about that person. Articulable suspicion is a mature and objective reason to believe that the person has engaged in criminal behavior. Without that level of articulable belief, the government is powerless to scrutinize anyone for any reason.
The articulable suspicion threshold is vital to assure that people in America have the presumption of liberty and are free to choose their behavior unimpeded or threatened by the government. The feds cannot cast a net into the marketplace of ideas and challenge what it brings in. Were they able to do so, the constitutional protections for free expression and the primacy of liberty would be meaningless.
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom