August 6, 2009
Editor’s note: See our article from August 5, White House Asks People to Spy on Health Care Dissidents.
The White House request that members of the public report anyone who is spreading “disinformation” about the proposed national health care makeover could lead to a White House database of political opponents that will be both secret and permanent, according to Republican lawyers on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are examining the plan’s possible implementation.
[efoods]On Monday, White House director of new media Macon Phillips posted a note on the White House web site complaining of “disinformation about health insurance reform.” “These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation,” Phillips wrote. “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 firstname.lastname@example.org.”
In a letter to Obama Tuesday, Republican Sen. John Cornyn wrote that, given Phillips’ request, “it is inevitable that the names, email address, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House.” Cornyn warned the president that “these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program.”
“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,” Cornyn continued. “I urge you to cease this program immediately.”
Senate Judiciary Committee lawyers studying the proposal say that although there is no absolutely settled law on the matter, the White House plan is likely not covered by the Privacy Act, which prohibits government agencies from keeping any records “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.” Therefore, it appears the White House can legally keep records of the emails and other communications it receives in response to Phillips’ request.