The Internet and the Bill of Rights

by francine Hardaway on January 30, 2011

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments t...
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Whom do we think we are here in America? If I were a young Egyptian, I’d be furious at us. We export all our propaganda, our consumerism, our culture, and our heightened expectations for democracy in the rest of the world. But when they act on our words and take to the streets to emulate us, we slink away and hide behind the facade of the White House, hoping things will resolve without us, so the fallen dictator, replaced president, exiled buffoon, can make it out of the country safely and we won’t get blamed if it doesn’t happen (see Iran.).

My friend Mark wrote a great Facebook note about this today. He says the internet has replaced violence and guns as the true nexus of power. Mark believes guns belong to yesterday (the army, the police, the dictator) and the internet belongs to tomorrow (transparency, the citizens, democracy). He says the right to the internet should be the true Second Amendment right.

But we really can’t have the Second Amendment without the First Amendment. That amendment gives the freedom to assemble and speak freely, and more important, the right of citizens to petition the government for redress against grievances.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Okay, so now Egyptians, Tunisians, Iranians and others in the middle east who have read about our first and second amendments are trying to cast off their bonds, just as we did.

And what are we doing to help? We’re trying to muzzle WikiLeaks and limiting the access of Americans to the English version of Al Jazeera’s news coverage. Last year, Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins proposed an internet “kill switch” not unlike the one just used by the Egyptian government.

We are acting exactly like the hypocrites in the governments we condemn. A panel of pundits on CNN disagrees on how much support the US can “afford” to give the demonstrators, with the panelists of middle eastern descent arguing for more vocal support and the Americans arguing for “go slow.”

We are waiting for the government of Egypt to rot and fall off by itself, so we won’t be blamed. We are afraid to stand up for the principles we say we believe in. Congress reads the Constitution out loud, and then we only live by it when it’s convenient. And why is that? Because the Middle East is all about oil, no matter what else we say it is about. And until we get our act together and find a way to replace oil, we will need the middle east, the Suez Canal, and all the rest of it. The people who complain loudest ¬†about globalization and loss of jobs are the same people who need the oil for their cars.

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