Taking the Dissident Database Seriously

We and many others have ridiculed the Obama administration’s heavy-handed effort to gather information on the “fishy” opponents of its government medicine proposal. Byron York, meanwhile, takes a serious look at the legal implications of the administration’s data-gathering program:

In a letter to Obama Tuesday, Republican Sen. John Cornyn wrote that, given Phillips’ request, “it is inevitable that the names, email address, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House.” Cornyn warned the president that “these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program.”
“I can only imagine the level of justifiable outrage had your predecessor asked Americans to forward emails critical of his policies to the White House,” Cornyn continued. “I urge you to cease this program immediately.”
Senate Judiciary Committee lawyers studying the proposal say that although there is no absolutely settled law on the matter, the White House plan is likely not covered by the Privacy Act, which prohibits government agencies from keeping any records “describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record is maintained.” Therefore, it appears the White House can legally keep records of the emails and other communications it receives in response to Phillips’ request.
Those lawyers also point out that the White House is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which means it would not have to release any information on the plan to members of the public who make a request.
In addition, the lawyers say the collected emails likely will be covered by the Presidential Records Act, which requires the White House to preserve and maintain its records for permanent storage in a government database. …
if “fishy” information is indeed collected, as Phillips’ request suggested, the laws involved mean that the information obtained by the White House could not only be secret but permanent. A dissident database, in whatever precise form it ultimately takes, could be around for a long time to come.

A secret and more or less permanent dissident database–in America! That’s quite an accomplishment for an administration still in its seventh month. It seems longer, somehow.

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