I’m actually somewhat surprised that Macon Phillips’s request, which was posted on the White House blog, is actually still there:
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.
It’s not hard to imagine a couple of junior political strategists and new media consultants running with this idea but you’d expect someone in charge to veto it on the first pass. Still, mistakes happen and things are released that shouldn’t have been so you’d expect a quick retraction. That retraction hasn’t happened and that can only mean that Obama’s team is incapable of understanding why this request is misguided and dangerous. Of course, it could also mean that heavy-handed attacks on free speech are exactly what they’re after. It’s scary any way you look at it.
Sen. John Cornyn is asking Obama to end this program immediately:
Dear President Obama,
I write to express my concern about a new White House program to monitor American citizens’ speech opposing your health care policies, and to seek your assurances that this program is being carried out in a manner consistent with the First Amendment and America’s tradition of free speech and public discourse.
Yesterday, in an official White House release entitled “Facts are Stubborn Things,” the White House Director of New Media, Macon Phillips, asserted that there was “a lot of disinformation out there,” and encouraged citizens to report “fishy” speech opposing your health care policies to the White House. Phillips specifically targeted private, unpublished, even casual speech, writing that “rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation.” Phillips wrote “If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I am not aware of any precedent for a President asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed “fishy” or otherwise inimical to the White House’s political interests.
By requesting that citizens send “fishy” emails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House. You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program. As Congress debates health care reform and other critical policy matters, citizen engagement must not be chilled by fear of government monitoring the exercise of free speech rights.
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. I suspect that you would have been leading the charge in condemning such a program-and I would have been at your side denouncing such heavy-handed government action.
So I urge you to cease this program immediately. At the very least, I request that you detail to Congress and the public the protocols that your White House is following to purge the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and identities of citizens who are reported to have engaged in “fishy” speech. And I respectfully request an answer to the following:
* How do you intend to use the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and identities of citizens who are reported to have engaged in “fishy” speech?
* How do you intend to notify citizens who have been reported for “fishy” speech?
* What action do you intend to take against citizens who have been reported for engaging in “fishy” speech?
* Do your own past statements qualify as “disinformation”? For example, is it “disinformation” to note that in 2003 you said:”I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan”?
I look forward to your prompt response.
United States Senator