Online political censorship in the U.SA.? It may be on the way — and soon. Bradley Smith is a member of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). He’s also a strong believer in the importance of vigorous online political speech. And right now, he’s worried. In an interview with CNET News.com, Smith warns that the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions may soon be applied to the Internet, thanks to a recent ruling by a federal judge that any coordinated political activity over the Internet must be regulated.
This new decision essentially overturned the FEC’s vote in 2002 to exempt most Internet communications from the notoriously restrictive McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The results could be devastating for online free speech.
* Blogs and other Web sites — even personal home pages — could be fined by the federal government for merely linking to a candidate’s Web site.
* Forwarding a political candidate’s press release to a mailing list, or extensively quoting a candidate’s literature via email, could be a crime.
* Blogs might be faced with having to hire a lawyer to approve their political commentary and linking, or just stop speaking out on political issues.
It sounds unbelievable. Yet, says Smith:
“We’re talking about any decision by an individual to put a link [to a political candidate] on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass emails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet.
“The impact would affect email lists, especially if there’s any sense that they’re done in coordination with the campaign. If I forward something from the campaign to my personal list of several hundred people, which is a great grassroots activity, that’s what we’re talking about… ”
The McCain-Feingold law does have a press exemption. But that won’t necessarily protect bloggers and online journals, Smith said, because “the statute refers to periodicals or broadcast, and it’s not clear the Internet is either of those.”
Indeed, CNET News.com notes that federal law limits the press exemption to a “broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication.”
Smith fears this has the potential to wipe out the blogging revolution that has so dramatically affected journalism and politics in the past few years. Fundamental online grassroots political activism could obviously be squelched as well.
Smith further says: “Senators McCain and Feingold have argued that we have to regulate the Internet, that we have to regulate email. They sued us in court over this and they won.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Smith says, adding that if Congress doesn’t demand freedom for online political speech and activism, “then I think grassroots Internet activity is in danger.”
(Source: CNET News.com: http://news.com.com/The+coming+crackdown+on+blogging/ 2008-1028_3-5597079.html?tag=st.prev World Net Daily: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=43140 Special thanks to Josh Koch )