Did you see the article in yesterday’s Washington Times reporting that, after protest from conservative bloggers and free speech activists, the Transportation Security Administration rescinded a new policy that would have prevented employees from accessing websites with “controversial opinions.” (If you didn’t see it there or on Drudge, you may not have seen it. I didn’t see it covered in other mainstream news sites.)
Now TSA is perfectly within its rights, perhaps even its responsibilities, to block employee access to certain websites, such as gambling and chat sites that TSA said it blocks. After all, these folks have important work to do to keep us secure. But the idea that TSA was going to block access to sites with “controversial opinions” raises concerns. It is only human nature that government officials charged with deciding which sites with controversial opinions to block might decide to deny access to ones critical of the TSA itself, or perhaps the incumbent Administration.
The Times report says: “A number of conservative bloggers suggested the TSA policy change was an attempt by the Obama administration to target opposing viewpoints or criticism.” I don’t know whether this is true or not, and I don’t want to presume bad intent. But I do know that TSA’s action – now retracted – is a reason to be very wary of allowing the government to get into the business of enforcing “net neutrality” and deciding whether Internet providers have “discriminated” in their treatment of content or applications.
We have far more, ultimately, to fear from government regulating speech on the Internet by deciding what content should be blocked than we do from private Internet providers retaining the freedom and flexibility to respond to the demands of the competitive media marketplace. If you don’t believe me, just consult your Constitution. There is a reason it is the First Amendment.