The debate on national security vs personal freedom is one that has raged for as long as there have been nations to protect and citizens to exercise what freedoms they have been granted. One need only to look beyond their national borders to see that there are as many differing opinions on what level is appropriate as there are nations to set those levels.
Put simply, I do NOT think that the U.S. government should have any additional power to exercise prior restraint than it already has. I don’t feel that the events of 9/11 have much relevance as to whether or not the U.S. government should have additional or less power to exercise prior restraint. More than anything, I feel that 9/11 is merely used as an excuse and isn’t even the real issue here.
From an ideological perspective, I do not support government restriction of citizen rights beyond a certain basic necessary level. People tend to act in their own self interest. This is true of organizations, regardless of type, just the same. At the base level, organizations are just collections of people. These people will tend to act in their own self interest just the same. As has been demonstrated through the years in the courts, the government officials have repeatedly attempted to abuse their positions and exercise prior restraint on those news stories that would damage them personally and professionally. Whether it be Pentagon Papers, which detailed the U.S government’s involvement and deception in the Vietnam war, or any of the other host of examples, it has been clearly shown time and time again that government officials have attempted to abuse their powers to protect their personal position, or to merely suppress information, rather than truly act in the national self interest. If the U.S. examples do not provide a strong enough impact, one merely needs to look at what has occurred in foreign countries such as Iran or Russia to see what can occur where less safeguards are in place.
I do not necessarily feel that the government needs to have less power than it does now, so I can’t say there would be any difficulty in maintaining the status quo. The government is currently trying to increase what power it has to exercise prior restraint. Thus, some difficulty could be encountered even just maintaining the government’s current level of power, as this goes against current trends.
There are two possible outcomes in the case of leaving the government’s power where it is today. Outcome one is that everything stays as it is and the government has some, but not extensive, power to exercise prior restraint. Outcome two, and the one the current and the previous administrations are proponents of, is that the government will have it’s ability to combat terrorism and pursue criminals severely diminished without increased power as of a result of new means of communication, such as the proliferation of the internet and its various services. One need only to look at the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) treaty, that the U.S. is trying to strong arm the international community into signing, to see where they stand. Perhaps most telling of the direction the government is moving is their reaction to requests from the public for the release of the details of the treaty which they had desperately been trying to conceal. From CNET, “Both the Obama administration and the Bush administration had rejected requests from civil libertarians and technologists for the text of ACTA, with the White House last year even indicating that disclosure would do ‘damage to the national security.'” Full text can be found here: Link~
In short, I only see negative implications should the government be grated any additional power in exercising prior restraint and cannot sanction any move in such a direction.
In light of the attacks on September 11th, I think the US government should be allowed to block publication of material. Many people would disagree with me on this, saying that allowing this would only segue into less free speech. Allowing the government to control what is published on the Internet would, undoubtedly, lessen free speech, but it would also protect national security. Which would you rather protect: free speech or American lives?
Wikileaks is another good example of my point. The release of these government document was extremely dangerous for our nation’s security, and the government has every right to censor and remove them. The documents detail our nation’s response plans, opinions on other countries, and much more. These documents should not be made available to the public, because it severely threatens American lives. If a terrorist organization uses these Wikileaks to attack us, and knows our response plans, then we are not safe. Our nation’s safety should come before the release of sensitive documents. The government has a right to keep certain matters secret; they already keep many terrorist threats that they foil every day secret to prevent national terror. They should be allowed to keep these government documents secrets as well.
Ever since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I believe that the U.S. Government should have the right to block the publication of material that is deemed to be harmful towards national security interests. This is not only for the safety of the country, but it also helps prevent any sort of negative response from the American people. If any sort of negative material about the U.S. leaks out through a media source, many people would tend to believe the source even if the publicized information would be correct or not. This could potentially cause many problems not only outside of the country, but in its own borders as well. I do believe as well though, that some stories that are not published (mainly stories that have to deal with the “enemy”) should be published no matter what. What I am talking about is how sometimes media sources do not publish positive material about whatever the government deems as “bad”, because they do not want American citizens getting other ideas about whatever it is they are fighting against. This does not only have to deal with people we are at war with, but even things inside our own country like for example, marijuana.
The difficulties in blocking some of this information though, is that the right to public information would be violated in a way, but it would be in the best interest of the people. It is also hard for information to be kept behind closed doors due to the amount of connections that revolve around the U.S. Government, but in some serious cases that information remains hidden in order to avoid problems in the future. The positive effects of the government taking this sort of position is not only does it keep itself safe from any outside or inside danger, but allows them to deal with the current situation before a story on the event is released. They would also continue to keep the nation up to date with information that would give them the opportunity to see what are the true problems the world is currently facing.
Prior restraint is “when the government prevents or blocks the publication, broadcasting, showing, or distribution of media content, whether in print, over the air, in movie theaters, or online. The role of the government is to protect the American people and I believe that the interest in national security should be considered before releasing information to the public. Therefore, I do believe that the government should have the opportunity to block publication of materials that might hurt our national security. In Mass Media Law by Don Pember, he describes the need for a balance between speech and other rights. Some difficulties you would face with this decision is who would decide what is eligible to show. There would be a lot of controversy over this because of the First Amendment however; there have been others situations where full First Amendment rights were not granted. The most widely known case of this is in school publications by students. A positive effect if the government were to adopt my position, is we (the US people) would be more protected. As soon as any publication is released into the media, anyone around the world is able to view it. It opens doors for threats and vulnerability that doesn’t need to be there. I am not one for more government, however, if this were to help better our national security, I believe the government should take action. As we have experienced the past months, Wikileaks had exposed important US government information that has required government to scramble in order to prevent further information from being exposed.