Mariesa Bergin, Reporter @Riesajb
Constitution Week visitors discussed how privacy rights are diminishing, especially for members of the press.
Framed by the United States and Utah Flags, four distinguished intellectuals sat on a stage in the Library Wednesday morning and discussed how the US government is threatening privacy in the modern press.
“There is no line between conservatives and liberals on this issue,” said Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University and professional legal writer. “There is a danger in America right now imposed by government surveillance.”
Daniel Hannan, a member of European Parliament, Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union, and UVU’s Director of Constitutional Studies, Rick Griffin, accompanied Turley.
Each speaker quoted the first and fourth amendments of the United States Constitution as they described multiple ways in which our rights as citizens are being violated.
“Everyone seems to be angry about the state of our government right now,” Turley said, “and it is strangling the life out of this country.”
The panel discussed how the threat against the press is particularly unsettling because they represent a select few who are actually informing the country about injustices within the government. Turley and Crump focused their remarks on the government stripping the members of the press of their constitutionally protected rights.
Turley asserted that the Obama administration has been responsible for more investigations of reporters than all of the other Presidents combined. Crump of the ACLU discussed that the government has granted them the right to stop journalists at the border and download information from their electronic devices without cause.
“It’s a real professional problem for journalists,” Crump said. “How can journalists do their job when they can’t ensure the safety of their contacts and information. Maybe they are working on a sensitive story with a foreign source that feels threatened by the US government. Why would that person ever feel comfortable providing that reporter with information that could be recovered by the government, thus implicating the individual?”
Crump further explained how the government isn’t held accountable for their actions, which infringe upon the rights of the citizen, at borders.
“A police officer can’t just walk into your house or up to you on the street, take your phone and laptop, copy all the information and say it’s for public safety,” Crump said. “They would need to have the proper warrants proving they have probable cause.”
The post 9/11 unified effort to prevent future terrorist attacks motivated many Americans to unquestioningly relent to these types of investigations and searches.
“Though restrictions on law enforcement are lax at the border, there are still rules,” Crump said. “The extra wiggle room is so that they may enforce immigration laws and national security. A reporter coming back from a foreign country does not inherently impose a threat to immigration regulations or national safety.”
After Crump’s remarks, Hannan, a British journalist and politician, spoke on the history of the freedom of the press in the English-speaking world.
“I am proud to be from a country that has protected freedom of speech since ,” Hannan said, “that is, until very recently.”
Hannan spoke on the recent influx of censorship in the way of political correctness.
“You do not have the right to not be offended,” Hannan said. “That is what set the English-speaking world apart for centuries. We have never tried to legislate opinion. We have a history of understanding the profound difference between opinion and inciting language. We must not allow ourselves to get caught up in the uselessness of trying to control what people say.”
The hot-button topic for the panel was the new piece of legislation that asks for a rigid definition of journalist, which will allow the government to remove the protection provided the press from those engaging in journalism but are not paid. The panel was split on whether or not the legislation has moral or legal foundation.
“I definitely think we need to have parameters defining what a journalist is,” Turley said. “I don’t know that it should be based on whether or not that individual is paid for writing because I have weekend bloggers that are not paid but provide articles of equal value to those who are paid.”
The new legislation says that if a journalist is not employed and paid by an established news outlet, then they can be questioned and detained in regards to information they release.
“No, there should not be an enforced definition,” Hannan said. “Why would you ever privilege one group of people over another based solely on their employment status. Does that not undermine freedom? It is immoral to imply that because one reporter is gainfully employed that somehow he or she is more worthy of protection than one who is not.”
The Privacy in the Modern Press event was one of several held this week in celebration of the constitution and the privacy rights it protects.
The Center for Constitutional Studies referred to this year’s Constitution Week and the events included as an ‘international privacy party’. Issues regarding privacy in cyberspace, experts from around the world addressed law enforcement, security, and health care.
Speakers and panelists repeatedly brought up the concern that citizens start to break down when they are under constant surveillance, and that research shows that a society of conformity and fear becomes commonplace in surveilled groups. They expressed that not only do we need spaces where we can breathe free and not feel watched, but also we have a right to it.
“I enjoy the things that I have because of the constitution,” Oakley Hill, a UVU Integrated Studies student, said. “There are a high number of people who have died to preserve it. If they’re willing to die for it, then I think I should at least be willing to pay attention to it.”