Civil Liberties on the Internet: Why You Should Care
Americans are taught from childhood the importance of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Just in case you haven’t glanced at it, lately, here it is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This is a pretty magical amendment, and something on which we have relied since it was adopted in 1791 (in Oakland terms, “a hella long time ago”).
But—this may seem like I am stating the obvious—the internet did not exist when the First Amendment was ratified. You may think I am being a condescending jackass by mentioning that, but there is a point to it:
- First: People assume that the Bill of Rights is automatically mapped onto new technological developments.
- Second: People assume that, just because they have established rights, those rights are secure.
- Third: The first assumption couldn’t be more incorrect. The second is flawed.
Every time new technology is developed, every time new methods of communication are created, people decide whether and how our Constitutional rights are going to function within and relating to that technology. This can take decades to even begin to sort out.
This means that people cannot assume that their Constitutional rights are secure. First of all, it is incredibly unwise. I mean, really—if you are paying even the tiniest bit of attention to some of the latest bits of legislation, you have to know this is true. Take a look at SOPA or the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.
It also means that people need to be proactive and aware of the ways in which their rights are endangered, so that when something like SOPA does become an issue, they are able to fight back. Now, I am not asking you to become law and tech mavens, and I am not suggesting that you run out and become activists. That path is not for everybody.
What I do suggest is that you do a little bit of homework, and then keep up with organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (@EFF on Twitter) and the American Civil Liberties Union (@aclu on Twitter). The EFF is part of the reason that the 4th Amendment applies to your electronic mail, for example, and the ACLU has been on the front lines protecting our civil liberties since 1920. These are people who are fighting daily to make sure that your rights are, in fact, your rights, and that the Constitution remains a foundation on which we can rely.
These organizations, and others, make it easy for you to make your voice heard, but you have got to realize that your voice matters and it might be more important than you realize to use it.
This entry was posted on December 8, 2011 by whiskeypants. It was filed under Legal, Politics and was tagged with 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, activism, bill of rights, civil liberties, constitution, EFF, electronic frontier foundation, first amendment, fourth amendment, free speech, internet, law, legal, sopa, tech law.