Posted tagged ‘First Amendment’

Privacy vs. Freedom of Expression

April 6, 2010

There is an on-going battle happening in America that is as quiet as a cat but as vicious as a pit bull.

This battle is a relatively new one, exacerbated by the popularity of the World Wide Web.

This is a battle that is being fought on all possible fronts: the White House, the Pentagon, the offices of the Central Intelligence Agency, the chambers of Congress, schools, street corners, public libraries, and even private homes.

This is a battle between personal privacy and freedom of expression.

But first, here are a few thoughts to help set the stage for this discussion:

We live in an unprecedented age of information. The social observers of the 1990s famously referred to the Internet as the “Information Superhighway” because of the vast amount of information that is available at the mere click of a mouse.

Today that highway has grown to stretch across the globe; surpassing all national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. This information comes in all forms: news, politics, opinions, history, art, pop culture, personal stories, etc. The popularity of blogs created in itself a fairly new phenomenon where more people are willing to put their personal lives out for everyone to read.

And this is where things get very interesting. More and more people, some as young as middle school students, are willing to put their private lives on the Internet for all to see. Through written blogs or video blogs posted on Youtube, people share private information about their lives, including their love life, sex life, opinions on politics, office/schoolyard gossip, opinions on pop culture, and anything else that will attract a loyal following.

Internet pseudo-celebrities will post daily (or weekly) videos of them chatting to their “fan base” about whatever comes to their mind. Certain people will tune in because of the voyeuristic pleasure they get from peeking into the seedy lives of “ordinary” people.

I say “ordinary” people because one never knows how real these “confessions” are. Then again, is that really the point?

The rise of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace has given people more channels to advertise themselves. Our world is becoming more interconnected. All this leads to one conclusion: our “private” lives are entering into the public domain like never before.

At the same time, consider the controversy that sprung up in the wake of the domestic surveillance scandal of 2005. It was revealed to the American people that the infamous Patriot Act of 2001 had given the FBI the right to spy on foreigners and U.S. civilians without a judge’s permission. Eliminating the need for a federal subpoena, as argued by dissidents, destroys our constitutional right to “due process.”

Many Democrats and civil liberties advocates argued such a practice violated American’s rights to privacy. President Bush argued such measures were necessary to protect Americans from future terrorist attacks. Terrorists do not respect individual rights, Bush and his supporters said.

The outrage from “Spygate” proves that Americans are not completely willing to sacrifice their personal privacy for the sake of protecting themselves from potential harm. Other similar controversies include the installation of video cameras on street corners, photo-enforced red light traffic cameras, and unwarranted phone tapping.

Yet, there exists a completely different trend in American society. As mentioned earlier, Americans are becoming more comfortable with spilling their deepest, darkest secrets on the Internet. Even if they maintain a certain degree of anonymity, there always exists the possibility that someone will find out who they are.

Voyeurism is the sexual interest of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors that is normally relegated to the private sphere. Alfred Hitchcock’s breakthrough 1954 film “Rear Window” famously depicted Jimmy Stewart as a crippled man who spends his free time spying on his next door neighbors. When his character witnesses a potential murder, he becomes involved in a dangerous conspiracy that never would have happened had he kept his peering eyes away from other people’s business.

“Rear Window” argues how dangerous it is to step into the lives of private people without their permission. There is nothing inherently illegal about spying on people (other than the creepiness factor), but when watching leads to taking action, a line has been crossed that leads to very unholy territory.

This unholy territory is “stalking,” the practice of giving unwanted attention to individuals by either physically following them, researching intimate details of their lives, or trying to contact them without their permission.

There is a joke among Facebook users that when somebody finds out intimate details about someone by reading information posted on their profile, they are referred to as a “Facebook stalker.” The irony is, of course, that all this information is willingly posted on the profile by the person. This information is available for all eyes to see, especially the eyes of your “friends.”

But sometimes this is no laughing matter. Recently, a Tacoma teacher named Jennifer Paulson was murdered by a stalker who casually knew her in college. Her death signifies how serious stalking can be; that intruding on someone’s privacy can possibly lead to violence.

Naturally, there is no way to monitor this except though self-control and utilizing common sense. The government cannot control what information people are willing to put out there. And likewise, people are limited in what they can do to stop government intrusion on their personal lives.

This is an issue that should be “discussed” more than “debated.” Why are we willing as a society to spill more secrets about our personal lives while at the same time getting outraged whenever we see the federal government intrude on our personal space? Are we becoming more open about our privacy, or are we really becoming more protective of it?



Hate Groups Are Wise to Support “Lone Nuts”

June 18, 2009

Lone nuts are a funny thing. They commit aberrant acts of violence that defy any notions of decency, morality, or common sense. They act under the guidance of only one person: themselves. They follow no orders except for what they decide to do. They are easy to ignore because they represent no larger cause. But we should be cautious about feeling this way.

A few weeks ago controversial abortionist doctor George Tiller was gunned down at church allegedly by a man named Scott Roeder, an adamant pro-life (or is it anti-abortion?) believer who militantly carried out his angry ideology. Even more recently an 88-year-old man named James Von Brunn stormed into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and killed Stephen Tyrone Johns, an African American security guard.

None of these killings are officially tied to any organized crime. Though a devout anti-Semitic and white supremist, Von Brunn acted alone and not with the explicit help with any Neo-Nazi group. The news media have discussed these two cases extensively within the past few weeks and have talked about how far we have left to go in creating a truly egalitarian and tolerant society.

But even more disturbing is how these organizations function. They do not officially support terrorism or acts of violence. They “denounce” such violence when they do occur. When the media ask them what they think about “lone nuts” who kill in the name of white supremacy or any other cause, they claim they renounce violence and instead embrace “nonviolent” political action and open dialogue. Many pro-life organizations do truly reject violence and instead use the political system to make change. Others do not.

Talking heads on television have discussed whether these organizations and the conservative media are to blame for Roeder and Von Brunn’s horrific actions. It is true that leaders of the white supremist movement are very vocal about their hateful beliefs. It is true some of their speech borders on incitement. But incitement is a very difficult crime to prove.

Vocal conservative voices like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh are very adamant that their audience know how they feel about certain issues. Lou Dobbs on CNN is infamously a very strong anti-illegal immigration voice. Their opinions, as so-called “journalists,” are well-known by people everywhere. When right-winged pundits and others compare Dr. Tiller to Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, calling abortion a crime similar to the Holocaust, it is understandable that one would put blame on them for murders to people like Tiller.

But that argument can lead to calls for censorship and media redaction, a slippery slope that no one wants to go down. As a strong First Amendment advocate, I strongly believe only speech that causes direct, imminent, and lawless action should be censored. And that should be a rare case. Accusing any speech of incitement, and therefore censorable, can eventually lead to the suppression of ideas and tyranny of the masses.

No one likes racist and hateful speech like that delivered by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, but in America, such speech should be allowed. We cannot let the masses, even if the masses are right, to dictate what speech is allowed and what is not. Living in a free society means allowing all people to speak their minds. Even people we don’t like. But enough about defending free speech.

The really interesting aspect to all this is the concept of being a “lone wolf.” Hate groups are smart (if such a description can be given to them) to not officially condone violence or take part in organizing violence. When they do that, they become not just hate groups, but terrorist organizations. That is the fine line between the two.

When a hate group commits no act of violence, and therefore do not break any laws, the government can take no action against them. The FBI cannot crack down on Aryan Nations or KKK meetings because of what happened at the Holocaust museum. They have no direct connection to the shooter. If there is proof that madmen like Von Brunn are officially sponsored by these groups, then the U.S. can take all the legal action necessary to bring them down.

And hate groups do not want that. If they want to continue to survive, they must remain law abiding. And in this age of the Internet and social networking, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to track down exactly who is responsible for what. So when shootings at Dr. Tiller’s church and the Holocaust museum take place, they can make their token statements where they reject violence and are praying for the victim’s families. They don’t fear being pursued by the police because, on the surface at least, they have done nothing wrong.

But secretly, they are loving what has happened. The museum slaying has other Jewish organizations fearing for their safety. African American security guards and police officers are now looking over their shoulder more often. The fears for the safety of President Obama, America’s first African American president, have increased. With these pairs of killings, these hate groups have achieved a small victory: the installment of fear into people.

Then again, we should be cautious to clump the anti-abortion and anti-Semitic followers into a single group. They are very different in their beliefs and should not be seen as one and the same. I’m sure there were many pro-life folks who genuinely hated seeing a man killed because someone disagreed with what he did. Lone nuts like Roeder do nothing to legimatize their cause. They only make them appear more out of the mainstream and out of touch with reality. Not all pro-life people are killers. But people will be less convinced of that after this incident.

Returning to the original point, racist and hate groups are not on the NSA’s terror watch list because they have not been proven to organize terrorist actions. The KKK or the Aryan Nations are not like al Qaeda or Hezbollah because they keep away from organizing shootings like that which took the life of Mr. Johns. If there is any proof of connections between these organizations and “lone nuts,” then they are no longer considered lone nuts, but agents. And agents can be prosecuted along with their “commanders.”

This is not to say that hate groups did not give direct support to Von Brunn and people like him. As mentioned before, online social networking is so complex that anything is possible. Law enforcement agencies will have to work even harder to prove a conspiracy. If the government could not prove that Lee Harvey Oswald acted under orders, how can they do the same in this age of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter?

For now, we are left to being more vigilant and countering racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry not with police action, but with more grassroots awareness action. Love cannot be enforced. Love must be taught. We must make other people aware of the humanity in all of us, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, creed, or physical abilities. This requires people to lead by example and to be open to criticism and difficult discussions. Ending hate will not happen if people are passive. Hate will end when acceptance becomes the norm.

Men like Roeder and Von Brunn may be lone nuts, but their actions affect us all in some form or fashion. Lone nuts are a funny thing. They may act alone, but their deeds speak to us all.