The First Amendment was created to protect the free flow of information to citizens. Journalists serve as a proxy for the public. What are the flash points and decision trees we must wrestle with regarding the essential issues of privacy, national security and the definition of a member of the press? Can (or should) we re-frame the conversation to demonstrate the impact upon citizens and our democratic society?
Four individuals discussed their thoughts during “Privacy, security and the First Amendment,” a panel session of “Five Years Past/Five Years Forward: Next Steps for Sustaining Journalism.” In this post, the individuals share their experiences with the accuracy of the following assertion.
Q: The rise of the global public network — the Internet — is increasingly driving conflict among three values long associated with our participatory democracy. Those values are free speech, privacy and security. What has changed in the last five years to drive that conflict, and what do we need to do over the next five years to keep the three in balance?
Key highlights from the panelists
1) The described conflict is more far-reaching than five years ago. It stems from the terroristic attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001 when national security became heightened.
This “tipped the balance between — the right to gather news, privacy and national security.”- Craig Newman, chief executive officer of the Freedom2Connect Foundation, a non profit based in Washington D.C.
2) In American history, there have never been as many prosecutions of whistleblowers under espionage than those under the current administration. — Newman
3) In addition to the values of free speech, privacy and security, openness is another value to consider. — Josh Stearns, journalism and public media campaign director at FreePress.net
Privacy isn’t dying — secrecy is, if openness continues to rise. — Stearns
New technologies and the Internet are forcing entities to make available more open records.
“That creates a lot of tension, obviously, as well, and a lot of questions,” said Stearns.
4) Journalists need to care about access to information, open government, Internet freedom and the public’s right to know and publish information. — Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
5) It is journalists’ responsibility to present a version of the truth to the public that may be different than the “sanitized version” given to the public by the government. — Bunting
6) The e-government movement (use of technology to make government more open and transparent) is making it easier for journalists to access data in emerging democracies and developing countries. However, there are still several obstacles including language barriers and high access costs. — Hawley Johnson, consulting researcher on the Investigative Dashboard Project
7) Daily active censorship takes place in more than 60 countries.
“It’s not the traditional enemies of democracy but our traditionally democratic friends that are now engaging in (Internet-based) censorship,” said Newman.
For example, the Singapore government requires news blogs to pay a $40,000 license or performance bond to operate their blog. Bloggers were also asked to remove “objectionable content” (as determined by the Singapore Media Development Authority) within 24 hours of being notified by the Authority.
8) Citizens need to stand up for their First Amendment rights.
“We actually have a role in demanding that we transition our understanding of these rights to a digital age and what does that mean?” asks Stearns. “What does press freedom mean? Is it only an institutional protection or is it an individual right? What does privacy mean in the age of the NSA (National Security Agency)?”