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American Journalists Under The Watchful Eye Of Big Brother

 

By James Donahue

 

There is something eerie about working as a journalist in today’s America and under the evil eye of the Department of Homeland Security.

 

We have been aware for some time that government agencies have been quietly monitoring social websites like Facebook and even scanning our e-mails and fax messages and listening in on our telephone calls as part of the Bush declaration of War On Terror. Legislation like the Patriot Act opened the door for government intrusion into our private lives without even the courtesy of a court order. It has been a declaration of Constitutional rights be damned, we must give up those rights to save us from ourselves.

 

In November, the National Operations Center’s Media Monitoring Initiative, (a long name for one of the many obscure bureaus operating within the Department of Homeland Security) issued what appears to be its own “permission to collect and retain personal information from journalists, news anchors, reporters or anyone who uses traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.”

 

The phrase “personal identifiable information” is defined by Homeland Security as “any intellect that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.”

 

Hidden within all that somewhat legal mumbo-jumbo is the rub. It seems that the initiative now gives the agency permission to reach beyond the social media and electronic messages with its spy network. Any website publishing news and information is now subject to government monitoring.

 

Of course, those of us involved in the writing and distribution of news and commentary, whether in printed form on newspapers or on various blogs or websites, want our material to be read. It is published as public information. We welcome readers, even if they are employees of government spy agencies.

 

When I monitor my readership I notice that many of the thousands of people visiting my own site each day originate in interesting places like Washington, D.C. and Rome, Italy. This suggests that I might be drawing the attention of a few people in high places. Is this because they are interested in what I have to say, or is it simply a hired stooge ordered to include my site in a daily spy ritual?

 

So why, you might ask, is our government so willing to spend time, money and resources on watching over those of us who collect and report the news to our readers? Is there about to be an organized vendetta to control all of the news flowing freely (as yet) on the Internet?

 

News reporters are naturally suspicious about such things. We regard ourselves as members of the Fourth Estate of government, in that by acting as independent and objective watchdogs over the actions of elected government officials we help keep some degree of balance and honesty. Obviously the Washington Press Corps has not been performing its duties in recent years as well as it used to. But that is the way it is supposed to work.

 

The media has been considered such an important part of the social and political strata that reporters have long been protected from government and judicial infringement. For example, reporters are allowed to protect their sources of information. Many journalists have chosen to endure jail time rather than submit to judicial orders to reveal their sources in sensational trials.

 

In my many years working as a reporter in the field, I was often subpoenaed to appear in court as a witness because I happened to be at the scene of events that led to litigation. In every case, my newspaper supplied legal counsel to guide me through the questioning. That was how carefully we protected our sources and our freedoms to cover and report news events.

 

But times are obviously changing. As newspapers and even television news reports decline in their ability to keep up with the almost instant news reports breaking daily on the World Wide Web, a new and dynamic form of journalism is emerging. And electronic publishers like Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks website are an obvious problem for people in power with something to hide.

 

Assange specializes in printing whistleblower supplied documents that expose wrongdoing in governments and corporations all over the world. They couldn’t charge Assange with wrongdoing because of what he is publishing, so he being squeezed with Swedish rape charges. Accusations of sex crimes are a popular method of government to silence people that know and reveal secrets.

 

The United States military is involved in the WikiLeaks silencing because the website published “classified” information about the Iraq war. None of this information put any of our military personnel in harms way, nor did it do anything to compromise the war effort. But Private Bradley Manning was charged with treason because he is accused of leaking the documents to WikiLeaks.

 

There has been a recent fight in the U. S. federal courts over the government’s right to access Twitter accounts, believed used by Manning and perhaps others to send information to WikiLeaks. The government also is attempting to subpoena information from Assange’s personal computer accounts.

 

In the old days, reporters kept their notes on printed paper, usually in stenographer styled notebooks, tucked away in secret places for as long as we thought we needed them as reference, or to protect ourselves in the event of litigation. The notebooks disappeared if there was a threat by a judge that we may be forced to expose our sources.

 

With new electronic media, a lot of information can be kept on file in computers and on back-up electronic devices. We can erase this material at the punch of a button. The problem is, however, that once information is recorded on a computer database, it never really goes away. People who know how to do it can recover every word. And there lies the problem.

 

Is the Office of Homeland Security, a monster created by George Bush after the 9-11 attack, giving itself the power to control every word published by the media in the United States? If this is what is coming, the people should be very afraid. Once the press goes silent, tyranny is bound to be the result.

 

As one blogger wrote: “By allowing the government to do this, we’re slowly ceding our civil liberties to a monster that only wants to take more.”