No Comment — May 8, 2007, 7:07 am

Big Brother Has Free Speech Rights, Too

Recently a federal appeals court warmed the hearts of civil libertarians by making clear that one right in the Bill of Rights has survived 9/11: the right to use firearms. This right is said to appear in the Second Amendment (that’s funny–not in my copy).

Now Verizon is working hard to establish a second right: Freedom of Speech. According to the telecommunications giant, the right of free speech serves one essential function–it allows Verizon to share the confidential phone records of its customers with the federal government in violation of state and federal law. In response to a law suit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, Verizon has asked a court to dismiss the suits–on First Amendment Grounds.

Essentially, the argument is that turning over truthful information to the government is free speech, and the EFF and ACLU can’t do anything about it. In fact, Verizon basically argues that the entire lawsuit is a giant SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit, and that the case is an attempt to deter the company from exercising its First Amendment right to turn over customer calling information to government security services.

“Communicating facts to the government is protected petitioning activity,” says the response, even when the communication of those facts would normally be illegal or would violate a company’s owner promises to its customers. Verizon argues that, if the EFF and other groups have concerns about customer call records, the only proper remedy “is to impose restrictions on the government, not on the speaker’s right to communicate.”

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

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