US Government: Information Is Classified Until We Say It Isn’t

US army blocks access to Guardian website to preserve ‘network hygiene’ | World news |

I got a real kick out of reading this story, as it reminded me of a recent anecdote I had told to some friends online.  Shortly after the NSA wiretapping story broke, several e-mails went out to all of our regional offices re-iterating that it is the official policy of the United States government that classified information retains its classification until proper authorities de-classify it.  Even if it has already been released to the public at large by the media.  Officially, the government’s position was that the details of the NSA spying program were classified, and therefore anybody who talked about it, whether it was Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, or some Joe Schmo army private who heard about it on the news, was compromising classified information and potentially subject to penalties.  The e-mail went as far as to “recommend” (not specifically order) that we all avoid accessing any news media websites on our work computers, because doing so might accidentally cause us to access classified information (which the news media was freely reporting), for which we could theoretically be charged with the crime of accessing classified information on an unclassified network.

Most of my friends found this story to be completely ludicrous, but I wasn’t really phased by it at all (more evidence that I was on the inside for entirely too long.)  At the time, most of us figured it probably wasn’t a very big deal, because after all, if they really didn’t want us pulling up these websites, they wouldn’t send us a kindly recommendation against it, they’d simply block the sites from the network.  Well surprise surprise, that’s exactly what they’re starting to do.  The potential precedent here is quite interesting though.  For now, we’re just talking about one agency blocking certain sections of one particular media outlet on the work computers of government employees.  Not necessarily a huge deal.  And we should be relieved that a spokesperson has assured us “The DoD is also not going to block websites from the American public in general, and to do so would violate our highest-held principle of upholding and defending the constitution and respecting civil liberties and privacy.”

But my question is, why not?  Top government officials including the President and high-ranking Republican Congressmen have decried Edward Snowden as a traitor, and lamented the fact that the exposure of these programs has needlessly harmed their efforts to catch terrorists, thus putting additional American lives at risk.  They assure us that the entire reason these programs exist and must be kept secret is to keep us safe.  That being spied upon, although constitutionally questionable and opposed by many, is a necessary procedure.  So why not censor the press?  Surely that would help keep us safe too, wouldn’t it?  Why not block websites that reveal classified information, not just from being accessed by government employees at work, but from the Internet entirely?  If the only standard these days is “it can be claimed that this makes us safer,” then surely censorship of the Internet passes that test.  These are the types of questions we need to start asking the government.  If we passively allow them to do one creepy and unconstitutional thing in the name of safety, what exactly is stopping them from doing other creepy and unconstitutional things?  If they’ll spy on us, why wouldn’t they censor the media for our own protection as well?  Where is the line?  How is it determined?  The line was supposed to be the constitution, but we seemed to have discarded that as a constraint upon government long ago…

About Dude Where's My Freedom?

My name's Matt and I love Freedom.
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