Friday, March 04, 2005

A dangerous precedent?

First, the Federal Elections Commission is looking at regulating blogs' political speech.

Was today step two? A judge in California preliminarily ruled that web sites don't have journalistic protection from having to reveal confidential sources. The three websites have been leaking information on a yet-unreleased Apple product, apparently made possible by inside informants. Today's ruling was a "tentative" victory for Apple: a court order forcing the three sites to reveal their informants' identities. A final ruling should come later today.

Apple has contended that the sites must turn over the informants' names because the sites aren't "legitimate members of the press." If the court happens to make that distinction, it could well be a dangerous precedent and another step toward suppressing online freedom of speech.

The First Amendment makes a clear distinction: it's not freedom of speech for the press, it's freedom of speech and of the press. Even so, who is the press? The Bill of Rights' authors weren't talking about only formal "press" businesses. They were talking about any common man being able to print a bunch of pamphlets if he wanted (a la Thomas Paine), not just the New York Times.

Once again, it's about courts overstepping their Constitutional authority: establishing principles that weren't there in the first place, creating legislation by judicial decision.


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