The Left is now justifying their war on free speech by claiming it’s for national security reasons. Eric Posner at Slate suggests the threat from ISIS means Congress must pass a law to protect stupid people from themselves (emphasis mine).
Consider a law that makes it a crime to access websites that glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS or support recruitment by ISIS; to distribute links to those websites or videos, images, or text taken from those websites; or to encourage people to access such websites by supplying them with links or instructions. Such a law would be directed at…naïve people, rather than sophisticated terrorists, who are initially driven by curiosity to research ISIS on the Web.
The law would not deter sophisticated terrorists who send one another encrypted messages. That’s not its point. ISIS seeks to recruit Americans on American soil; in order to recruit from the public, it obviously cannot act secretly. It must instead broadcast widely and rely on surrogates to broadcast widely, in order to reach an audience of nonradicalized Muslims. This is a vulnerability. When people discover ISIS websites and circulate them by Twitter, Facebook, and other public websites, those people often disclose their identities. Many are too naïve to use pseudonyms; others reveal their identities to their ISPs, which can be forced to cough them up to police. Teenagers who are curious about ISIS but not yet committed to it are unlikely to use complicated encryption technologies to mask their identities from ISPs. Laws directed at this behavior would make a dent in recruitment, and hence in homegrown radicalism, even if they do not solve other problems.
There are more than a few problems with Posner’s proposal, something he even admits. The first is it’ll no doubt capture someone who’s doing research on ISIS, maybe even a law enforcement officer working from home. The second, and most obvious, is it violates the First Amendment which says “Congress shall make no law…abriding the feedom or speech.” But Posner is perfectly fine with this idea by clamoring the government has done it before.
Before [[ the 1960s ]], in the United States, people could be punished for engaging in dangerous speech. The U.S. government prosecuted Nazi sympathizers during World War II, draft protesters during World War I, and Southern sympathizers in the Union during the Civil War. It’s common sense that when a country is embroiled in a war, it should counter propaganda that could populate a third column with recruits. The pattern in American history—and, in the other democracies as well, even today—is that during times of national emergency, certain limits on speech will be tolerated.
He’s also forgetting the Alien and Sedition Acts which sparked the idea of nullification after the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were furious over the idea the government was cracking down free speech, just because it criticized those in power. It would be a lot like if a government agency decided to target groups because they were against overspending and the current president. Oh wait, that’s already happened. This is why it’s important to defend free speech, even if it’s stupid people going to sites run by ISIS. There’s no way to figure out who’s doing what and why, unless the government gets a warrant, presents it to the accused person, and allows them to challenge it in court. But that’s too hard for those in government, so a blanket ban is just easier.
The other important thing to realize is how Posner is just a fan of limiting speech to begin with. He wrote in February that universities were right in keeping certain speech and behaviors in check because students “must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.” To quote John Stossel, “give me a break.” The desire for the government to “do something” to protect its citizens is what led to the Patriot Act and NSA spying to begin with. This isn’t a private company deciding to block access to websites because they want to. It’s the government promoting a form of censorship in the name of national security. It’s the same reason why the Left is promoting the ridiculous, “People on watch lists shouldn’t be able to buy guns” narrative. They’re hoping to slowly erode at rights because “people much be protected.” The Right isn’t an innocent party either because of the rhetoric on the aforementioned Patriot Act and NSA spying, but we’ve got to be willing to stand up against this type of thinking. If not, more people are just going to shrug their shoulders and go “okay” when faced with something which seems logical, but will erode away at our guaranteed rights under the Constitution. Free speech is free speech, even if it’s something I disagree with or reject completely. It is foolish and unwise to suggest speech be limited in the wake of a terrorist attack because it just paves the way for more rights to be infringed upon.