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The Obama White House may be breaking the Privacy Act of 1974 by asking citizens to report “fishy” political speech.
On Tuesday, Macon Phillips, President Obama’s Director of New Media, wrote on the White House blog asking citizens to rat out fellow citizens who are spreading “disinformation” about Obama’s plans for more government control over the health care system. Phillips wrote:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.
One wonders, what constitutes “fishy” speech or “disinformation”? Is it anything that runs counter to what the White House wants you to think? And what, precisely, is the White House planning to do about someone who’s speech has been “flagged”?
It turns out, even asking for citizens to report on each other may be illegal. According to the Department of Justice, “the purpose of the Privacy Act is to balance the government’s need to maintain information about individuals with the rights of individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasions of their privacy stemming from federal agencies’ collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information about them.”
Further, anything is considered a “personal record” if it identifies an individual (an e-mail address would qualify), and “federal agency” specifically includes “the Executive Office of the President.”
I’m no lawyer, but it sure sounds like the White House is violating the law by asking people to snitch on their friends and neighbors for engaging in “fishy” political speech. Anyone want to try this one in court?
In the meantime, I’m going to report myself. I’m obviously not thinking the way our Dear Leader wants...
Update: Renowned attorney David T. Hardy identifies another area where the Obama White House appears to be breaking the law:
5 US Code §552a(e)(7) commands that any Federal agency
“(7) maintain no record 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 or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity;”