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03/09/2005 Archived Entry: "Repression of political blogs imminent?"

Join the McCain-Feingold Insurrection! The blogosphere is abuzz with news and rumors about the possible regulation of 'political' blogs by the federal government. John Sample explains why (and how) the damage will occur in a Reason article entitled, "Bloggers Beware: Threats to the status quo are always ripe for 'reform'."

[T]he federal government is about to come down hard on bloggers. Here's why. In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law which restricted political advertising by corporations and labor unions on television and radio. The Federal Election Commission—the agency charged with implementing McCain-Feingold—initially decided that Congress had not intended to restrict political speech on the Internet. Last fall, a federal judge said exempting the Internet from the law's restrictions on political speech would undermine McCain-Feingold. Now the FEC is back at it trying to figure out how to restrict political speech on the Internet. The McCain-Feingold Act was allegedly intended to prevent ''big money'' and influence peddling in federal politics but in contained some particularly objectionable provisions that limited freedom of speech. For example, ads against opponents could not appear within a specified number of days from a primary or general election.

Now Bradley Smith, one of six FEC Commissioners, is trying to extend the Act to cover political bloggers. Recognition of the threat first emerged through an article by the incomparable freedom of speech advocate Declan McCullagh, whose March 3rd C/Net column "The coming crackdown on blogging" announces "Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over." A rather chilling interview with Smith follows and Smith's answers are...informative in the terrifying sense of that word. For example, McCullagh asks, If Congress doesn't change the law [to exempt the internet], what kind of activities will the FEC have to target? Smith answers, We're talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet. Again, blogging could also get us into issues about online journals and non-online journals. Why should CNET get an exemption but not an informal blog? Why should Salon or Slate get an exemption? Should Nytimes.com and Opinionjournal.com get an exemption but not online sites, just because the newspapers have a print edition as well? Smith has warned that ''bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.''

A likely target and test case for regulation would be the immensely popular and influential DailyKos collective blog that operates almost as a branch of the Democratic Party. Last week the Weekly Standard ran an article on DailyKos, which was entitled "Kos Party: Is the Daily Kos infiltrating the Democratic party, or remaking it in their own image?" A dangerous question to ask aloud in this political atmosphere.

Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle reports on a disturbing development in Santa Clara. The article fron yesterday's SFC: "Bay judge weighs rights of bloggers: Journalists' shield claimed in response to Apple's lawsuit." It states, "Bloggers may be pushing the boundaries of online communication, breaking news and waylaying politicians and corporate executives, but are they journalists? A Santa Clara County judge is weighing that question this week, as are plenty of other bloggers, journalists and lawyers. Apple Computer has sued three bloggers ... in an attempt to uncover anonymous sources who may have illegally leaked some of Apple's internal trade secrets. Traditional journalists confronted with similar demands to reveal sources could rely on California's Shield Law, which protects reporters from having to reveal unpublished information, which in many cases includes the name of the source. Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg issued a tentative ruling last week that the bloggers who reported about Apple don't deserve the same protection. Kleinberg's final decision is due this week."

There may be rocky roads ahead. Keep informed. Stay rebellious. Stand free.

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