Chairman Joe and the threat of censorship

Chairman JoeJoe Lieberman is abusing his post as Senate committee leader on Homeland Security by demanding the censorship of materials posted by Wikileaks.

Wikileaks, as of this time, has not been charged with nor convicted of any crime. In fact, our country has long had laws that protect the publication of leaked documents like the Pentagon Papers. It can be criminal to be the leaker, but not the publisher of the leaks themselves.

So Lieberman, with the backing of no law, has managed to bully Amazon into kicking Wikileaks off their servers and get completely innocuous leak related charts kicked off the data visualization service called Tableau. You can read more on both scandals here and here.

Keep in mind that Lieberman has no jurisdiction over internet companies in other countries. He’s only able to block American hosting and consumption of this information. He wants to keep his own people in the dark, this isn’t about keeping information out the hands of bad guys. It’s about keeping you, the citizens, ignorant of our government’s actions.

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Lieberman is also trying to pass a bill making it illegal to “publish the name of a U.S. intelligence source.” As Wired notes,

“Lieberman’s proposed solution to WikiLeaks could have implications for journalists reporting on some of the more unsavory practices of the intelligence community. For example, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was once a paid CIA asset. Would reporting that now be a crime?”

14 Comments

  1. Ian

    It obviously shouldn’t and won’t be censored. That said, what was Amazon thinking hosting them in the first place?

  2. Chris

    Amazon.com’s web storage system is self-serve. Put in your CC number and you get space. No review takes place.

  3. Lieberman’s hatred of America and American values knows no bounds.

  4. SisterSue

    We all have a right to free speech. Wikileaks, Lieberman, Amazon, and Tableau. But you seem to be suggesting that people have an obligation to facilitate the speech of others, even if they feel it goes against their best interest. Is it censorship if the NY Times decides not to print an editorial because it thinks it’s over inflammatory or otherwise lacks appeal? Is it censorship if a magazine refuses to print an advertisement that it thinks will offend it’s readers and, as a result, adversely affect their sales? No. You can say anything you want to, but you can’t make someone else say something they disagree with or even come back to hurt them (not even in court).

    Amazon and Tableau have decided to withdraw from the conversation. They have no more of a legal obligation to provide a forum for others speech than any other private distributor of information. But Lieberman’s words fell far shy of “bullying.” The very article this editorial cites says that Lieberman simply asked Amazon if they had any intentions of shutting them down. It makes no mention of a show of force or any implied threat. Only that the senator asked if they planned to act. As for mentioning the companies publicly — isn’t that his first amendment right? Or is that something he forfeits when he becomes the elected voice of his constituents (which sounds a little counterintuitive to me).

    ———–

    “Lieberman’s hatred of America and American values knows no bounds”

    That’s a pretty extreme comment. I hope you have things to back that up. And if you do, I hope you send that information along to the appropriate authorities.

    … but, really….

    How is this any different from Obama asking a nut in florida to refrain from burning a copy of the Quran for what he saw as the common good… was he bullying him? Was asking him to stop infringing on his first amendment rights or was Obama simply exercising his own right to free speech.

    Free speech has to go both ways. Just because you disagree with something — doesn’t mean it’s without merit or totally off-base. How is a leader supposed to lead or a representative supposed to represent his constituents if they’re not allowed to offer viewpoints they think serve the nation.He may be right or he may be wrong — but un-american! or a bully? McCarthy was a bully. The guy who took your lunch money was a bully. The coach who asked that you put your personal interests aside for the sake of the team was a leader.

    We should be far less scared of people with differing viewpoints than we should be of people with narrow minds.

  5. Chris

    SisterSue,
    I didn’t mean to imply that Lieberman doesn’t have the right to ask Amazon to do X, Y or Z. But I have a right to call it what it is, state censorship.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into the situation, but if I got a call from Homeland Security and they asked me about taking down Wikileaks info, I’d take that as an implied threat.

  6. SisterSue

    censorship = officially suppressing “unacceptable” language.

    Asking for something to be taken down is a far cry from ORDERING that it be suppressed.

    But, even if you can construe Lieberman’s request as a threat or a command, an argument could be made that some of the leaks pose a “clear and present danger” (ie posting a listing of sites the government considers vital to the US or sharing the names of afghan informants — which, in turn, endangers their lives)… and, if it does pose such a threat, then that speech is not protected under the first amendment (you know, the standard — “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater” — but on a national, if not global, scale).

  7. Chris

    If Lieberman felt that way, he could have urged that the U.S. work with Wikileaks to redact the most sensitive information, rather than try to suppress all of it.

  8. SisterSue

    I could make a similarly speculative argument about wiki-leak’s motives:

    If wiki-leaks truly cared about the common good — they would do that on their own. The same way the New York Times, The Gaurdian, and all of the newspapers that wiki-leaks allowed to see the information before posting the raw data to their site chose to sift through and offer us meaningful insight in to the leaks without risking the lives of potentially innocent people or providing a public venue to for anyone with a computer to examine potentially dangerous information. Wiki-leaks controls the information… and with it, the dialogue. If it poses a danger it is their fault and theirs alone.

  9. Chris

    SisterSue,
    I should have pointed out that Wikileaks did make an offer to the US Gov’t for help in redacting the documents http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2010/11/wikileaks-and-state-department-correspondence/

  10. SisterSue

    I’m a teenager who wants to go out to the mall with friends. I ask my mom if it’s ok. She says no, it’s a schoolnight. So I wait 20 minutes. And then I tell my dad that I just NEED to go get one thing for school tomorrow. He hands me the keys. I go to the mall. I meet up with my friends, but, before I leave, I buy a pen to use at school the next day. My mom gets angry…. man, she just doesn’t understand… I didn’t do anything wrong…. Dad said I could.

    So, my neighbor has this tree and it blocks my view of the lake. I asked him to cut it down, but he said that the tree’s shade protects him from the sun. He’s clearly never going to see it my way — the “right” way — so I decide to cut it down, but before I do, I ask him to cut the branches off. He refuses. The tree falls and one of the branches crushes his mailbox. Now, he wants me to pay for his mailbox even though it’s clearly his fault. What a jerk.

    I can’t believe you actually seem to be suggesting that, if there is dangerous information in these leaks, that it’s the government’s fault.

    —————-

    And, yeah, offering to let others do his journalistic duty suggests to me that he was well aware there might be risks. But publishing it in it’s raw form — and using the governments refusal to supply him with a staff to edit the documents that were stolen from them — suggest to me that he cares more about courting controversy to make noise, bolster the publics awareness of his organization (and, with it, his own notoriety), or is incredibly short-sited.

    He has an opportunity to become a voice for the public good. But so far, it appears to me that he’s either acting out of hubris or in support of an overly simplistic viewpoint that seems to be “transparency for the sake of transparency, and at all costs.” Why else would he feel the need to move beyond giving copies to newspapers around the world. Those organizations have adequate staffs with a good background in the intricacies of governments and the ethical training to sift through and reveal meaningful information without the risks of sharing raw data that could be easily taken out of context. (a crazy stupid and simplistic example: publishing a military plan for an attack on paris — that was part of a larger readiness program that entertained even the most far-fetched scenarios for war — without any idea of context. Now imagine that similarly speculative plan was referring to Iran or North Korea).

    Can you imagine what a totally transparent hostage negotiation would look like? The middle-east peace talks? Any basic trade negotiations? People/governments acting in grave situations need an opportunity to debate and explore ideas behind closed doors, to entertain even the whackiest of ideas, and to feel comfortable knowing that their ally or adversary isn’t privy to even their most wild speculation and conjecture. And once I remove “total transparency” as a goal unto itself, I’m not left with much else.

    ——

    Anyway, while I’m happy to debate the merits/potential of wikileaks —- I still don’t see how all of this amounts to an attack on the first ammendment by senator Lieberman.

  11. Chris

    SisterSue,
    I think you, Wikileaks and I agree that total transparency all the time isn’t a great idea. That’s why Wikileaks is only posting redacted documents, when they are perfectly capable of and legally able to post them all. Seems to me that’s a step in the direction of journalistic integrity.

    But while I can hardly say Wikileaks is 100% a force for good, I do think our government (and others around the world) rely too much on secrecy. They use it to hide not only vital national security data (launch codes, troop movements, etc) but to hide merely embarrassing information. As citizens in a democracy we have the right to know a lot of this information, and if Wikileaks is the force educating us, then thats a plus, even if it comes with severe caveats.

  12. SisterSue

    To bring it full circle — I guess what I can’t understand is — why there is so much care and concern to ensure you’re treating wikileaks fairly — and not an ounce of similar care or treatment for Lieberman.

    I mean, when you talk about wikileaks — you seem more than capable of holding and communicating multi-faceted viewpoints that consider the facts from varying viewpoints before delivering an opinion (even if that opinion is often delivered as if it’s fact).

    So why is there seemingly no concern for a politician who has served his entire life in an attempt to better our country.

    And, I’m not saying he should be immune from criticism, but the article that launched this debate was a single step away from claiming ol’ Joe was committing treason (and “libhomo”‘s comment said just about that).

    As we examine issues as potentially sensitive and complex as this… we need to make sure that our viewpoints aren’t guiding our perception of reality, instead of letting reality inform our viewpoints. (it’s kind of like that chart you posted about the tax cuts)

  13. Chris

    Lieberman has a well earned reputation as an irresponsible hawk (a reputation he shares with many other Congress-folk). Perhaps I let that color my perception of this latest issue too much.

    However, I still think Lieberman was engaged in a polite form of censorship. Why ask if Amazon was going to take down the documents at all if a request or demand was not forthcoming? Remember, Lieberman has no legal authority to censor Wikileaks documents hosted by American companies. Even if he did, banning them in America would only potentially keep the American people from reading them. The rest of the world and potential terrorists would be more informed than our people.

    Why bother? The cats out the bag. Rather than attacking Wikileaks and stifling legitimate media, threatening the freedomm of the internet, why not figure out how to prevent future leaks in the future?

  14. SisterSue

    Your argument is still based largely on conjecture about what might have happened next had these companies decided to simply say “no.”

    Neither you nor “LibHomo” have explained how this is any different than Obama asking a lone cleric not to burn the Kuran because he felt it would be against our national interest. Right or wrong isn’t that all Lieberman did? How can you claim it’s sinister, illegal, or even simply unethical? You can claim it’s shortsighted, naive, or simply stupid, if you’d like, but your view of this particular action seems to be unfairly skewed by either your feelings about him or wikileaks.

    Who knows, he might agree with you on all fronts — except one — maybe he thought it was important to take a public stand and to prove that wiki-leaks was not invulnerable. Or maybe it’s more like a kid who just had his lunch money taken and waits ’till the bully turns around so he can flip him off. Or, maybe… just maybe… he is worried that the people of the united states will find out about his top secret plan to raise his own unique breed of blood-thirsty chimpanzees and then sell them as helper monkeys. And there they’ll stay.. quietly brooding, pouring our milk, making our cereal, until one day…. Ol’Joe will twist his tiny US Flag lapel pin, which will then emit a high pitched version of “tora lora lora” and the monkeys will go in to a rage! Denying us our cereal, drinking milk out of the carton, and nibbling on our children’s helpless legs. And they won’t relent until we make Joe our president. Or maybe it’s just because he thinks private documents should remain private — at least until there’s a reason to suspect people of stepping out of bounds — and then we should get a warrant — or at least make some real allegation instead of revealing potentially harmful information for no reason except to release it. “Real” journalists don’t do that… if for no other reason that they understand it could compromise their source and prevent them from getting better information in the future. So maybe Ol’Joe finds them offensive on many levels — and felt the need to take a swing. Whatever the case is, there are a great many more options than the ones you so confidently chose to represent as if they were truth. I’m betting on the monkeys.