7/26/2008

1st Amendment: A Clear and Present Danger



There is a case involving bloggers who have been harshly critical of the police in Memphis, TN, especially Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin. What is at stake here is the freedom to criticize a governmental body with which you disagree. A lawsuit has been filed against AOL to produce any and all email addresses associated with MPD 2.0, a blog popular with police officers. What this apparently involves are police officers who are critical of their boss. At stake here are several things; one, freedom of speech. If these police officers are blogging off duty, it is their right to express their dissatisfaction with the MPD Police Director. If this doesn’t infringe upon the 1st Amendment, I’m not sure what you would call it. Secondly, there are certainly privacy laws that are going to come into play here. I’m curious how AOL will handle this. In the past, AOL and other internet providers have received court orders to turn over records of customers.

The Memphis Police Department is saying the blog hampers their ability to further current and past investigations. This sounds like a crock to me. I can’t imagine any police officer wanting to harm an ongoing investigation. It’s possible not all bloggers at MPD 2.0 are in law enforcement. If something is said that has harmed an investigation, that person should be outted. The ACLU, which I have always destested, appears ready to enter the fray. This is a situation that bears watching. If this blog, MPD 2.0, can be forced to turn over all records, it will have a chilling effect throughout the blogosphere. Everyone, including yours truly, will be subject to arbitrary rules that will impede free speech. It’s not just a danger to blogging. It’s a danger to free speech, the one right that has always made this nation great.

I fully understand police must maintain secrecy about investigations. I support this. But, in this case, it appears to be more about criticism of a corrupt police administration than a possible obstruction of justice case. If this blog is shut down because of criticism of a police administration, what is next? Will all criticism of governmental bodies be banned eventually? If a dam springs a leak, eventually it will collapse. This has the potential to be a leak. Forget the effect on blogging. Think about the effect on the 1st Amendment. There are already limits placed on 1st Amendment. But, this is one that has the potential to alter our most cherished right; freedom of speech.

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