Homeland Security Shreds Constitutional Right to Anonymous Political Speech – Not to Protect Our Security – But to Monitor Dissent

DHS Attacks Constitutional Right to Anonymity

Anonymous political speech has a special place in American history.

As leading economic blogger Tyler Durden points out:

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation– and their ideas from suppression– at the hand of an intolerant society.


Though often maligned (typically by those frustrated by an inability to engage in ad hominem attacks) anonymous speech has a long and storied history in the United States. Used by the likes of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) [and the founding fathers in the Federalist Papers], we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume. Particularly in light of an emerging trend against vocalizing public dissent in the United States, we believe in the critical importance of anonymity and its role in dissident speech. like the Economist magazine, we also believe that keeping authorship anonymous moves the focus of discussion to the content of speech and away from the speaker- as it should be.

But DHS is shredding anonymity.

Gene Howington provides details in a must-read essay:

Do you have a right to anonymous political free speech?

According to the Supreme Court, you do. According to the Department of Homeland Security, you don’t. They’ve hired General Dynamics to track U.S. citizens exercising this critical civil right.

The history of anonymous political free speech in America dates back to our founding. The seminal essays found in “The Federalist Papers” were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the nom de plume of “Publius” although this was not confirmed until a list of authorship complied by Hamilton was posthumously released to the public. As previously discussed on this blog, the right to anonymous political free speech has been addressed by the Supreme Court. Most notably in the cases of Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60 (1960) and McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995). In Talley, Justice Hugo Black writing for the majority said that, “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.” In McIntyre, Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the majority said that, “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. [… ] an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” That seems clear enough in defining that citizens do have a Constitutionally protected right to anonymous political free speech.

The full DHS policy statement regarding its activities can be viewed in the DHS Privacy Compliance Review of the NOC Media Monitoring Initiative (November 15, 2011), but rt.com’s summary spells out the basics:

“Under the National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative that came out of DHS headquarters in November, Washington has the written permission to retain data on users of social media and online networking platforms.

Specifically, the DHS announced the NCO and its Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) can collect personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own definition of personal identifiable information, or PII, such data could consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.” Previously established guidelines within the administration say that data could only be collected under authorization set forth by written code, but the new provisions in the NOC’s write-up means that any reporter, whether someone along the lines of Walter Cronkite or a budding blogger, can be victimized by the agency.

Also included in the roster of those subjected to the spying are government officials, domestic or not, who make public statements, private sector employees that do the same and “persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest,” which to itself opens up the possibilities even wider.

The department says that they will only scour publically-made info available while retaining data, but it doesn’t help but raise suspicion as to why the government is going out of their way to spend time, money and resources on watching over those that helped bring news to the masses.” – rt.com

This question about the right to anonymous political free speech is also asked over the background of the Electronic Privacy Information Center filing a FOIA request against the DHS to find out the details of the agency’s social network monitoring program.


As part of recent disclosures related to the EPIC suit, it is revealed that the DHS has hired and instructed General Dynamics to monitor political dissent and the dissenters. The range of websites listed as being monitored is quite impressive. Notably, jonathanturley.org is not on this list [Howington’s essay is a guest blog on constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley’s website], but equally of note is that this list is by the DHS’ own admission “representative” and not “comprehensive”.


Some of the more high profile and highly trafficked sites being monitored include the comments sections of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Wired, and ABC News. In addition, social networking sites Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are being monitored. For the first time, the public not only has an idea who the DHS is pursuing with their surveillance and where, but what they are looking for as well. General Dynamics contract requires them to “[identify] media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond government activities.” The DHS also instructed General Dynamics to generate “reports on DHS, Components, and other Federal Agencies: positive and negative reports on FEMA, CIA, CBP, ICE, etc. as well as organizations outside the DHS.” In other words, the DHS wants to know who you are if you say anything critical about the government.

Anybody thinking of the name “Goebbels” at this point is not out of line.

Nothing To Do With Security

This has nothing at all to do with keeping us safe:

  • Remember, widespread spying on Americans began before 9/11.
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  • Nonee Mouse

    Monitor this, DHS!

  • No big deal. In the 55 years I’ve been alive there was never any freedom in this mass murdering terrorist country anyway. NEVER! It was always a LIE. As long as this system exists there will be nothing but lies, criminality and terrorist attacks on Americans by the U.S. Zionist Government. Those are the FACTS. Live with it because there’s NOTHING anybody can do to change it.

  • Mark

    Actually Johnny, there is one solution that can change it. First, of course, the citizens need to become aware of what is going on and accept that they must muster the resolve to change it. Then, they secede (as a state, as a community, as a city or whatever). Secession is the only solution to this dilemma that I can see as working within the corrupt system will not change anything.
    Admittedly, this is a long shot but it’s the one that can get the job done.

    • John Hancock

      Actually, there is one more option. Acquire citizenship elsewhere, expatriate, then diversify internationally. Voting hasn’t made any changes here. Liberty has died by death of 1,000 cuts.

      But don’t just establish new residency and citizenship and move all your eggs to a new basket. To do that, you’ll just be trading one set of problems for another set of problems. The lightbulb realization for many people then is that government IS the problem. You probably know that of course. But the only solution is to *opt out*. To starve the parasitic beast.

      Expatriation from the US means you’re no longer feeding the most overreaching of these beasts in the world with the tax revenues that keep it alive.

      So go international. Bank where the banks are safest. Establish residency and then citizenship from a country that is respected is a good travel document and from a country that isn’t hated worldwide (i.e. not the US, israel, etc). Then eventually live in a different country or travel among countries where you enjoy the people, the climate, and life. Diversification means you can choose the best from any country.

      But by opting out and starving the beast, the parasite that is the US government will in time have to shrink. Empires are not sustainable. Not for Portugal. Not for Britain. And this time, not for the US. Only with a smaller government will freedom return. That will take a long time, if ever. But by opting out of being subject to any one gov’t, you’ll achieve the greatest freedom of all.

  • T bagg Toad

    What?! Are they going to erase all of the stuff I learned in History and Civics too! Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, they were uber-critical of these types of shenanigans. So much so that they took up arms against these types of oppressive regimes. Are we to believe that this adminstration will take down the Statue of Liberty and erect a Nazi cross? Explain yourself DHS? You seem to forget where your funding comes from. You can’t even close the border down, how can you claim that we even have homeland security? Why do we even need it?

    Long live the Empire! Heil Obama! I’m a good citizen.

  • molten_tofu

    While the concerns are real, this particular attempt on the DHS’s part to monitor online commentary is a flat out joke. “The range of websites listed as being monitored is quite impressive” is lol-worthy, and the price tag General Dynamics is quoting DHS is literally 1,000 times higher, give or take, compared to the market rate for these kinds of services. Finally, I’ve had a chance to review the reports DHS is receiving and they’re pretty much copy / paste hack jobs.

    You should know I have no love for centralized policing, and I work in an industry close to the services discussed. Practically anything DHS does is inherently creepy because it’s an organization based on a creepy premise. Frankly, though, what annoys me the most about this is the blatant waste of taxpayer dollars for a crappy product. It’s like the requisitions person just called up GD, GD was like “yeah sure we do that”, then took the conversation offline and it went something like this: “We build tanks, so who knows why they are asking us to do this… lets charge them 4 tanks per year”.

    And if you think you have a reasonable expectation of anonymity on the internet without taking informed precautions, you are a sucker and you don’t know how the internet works. I post under a pseudonym because it helps me feel free enough to call people “suckers”, but it would take about 10 minutes of research (tops) to figure out who I really am. Not to mention Washington’s Blog now has my email.

    Disclaimer – what I’m talking about here is the aggregation and analysis of publicly available information on the net, NOT hacking emails and Facebook to reveal content which has been expressly deemed “private” and protected as such using passwords and encryption. Were the DHS to embark on a project like this, it would definitely be a blatant police state action.

  • Admirer of GW

    This unconstitutional and unlawful nonsense flies in the face of shield laws, which are recognized in common law, for their ability to maintain the anonymity of sources precisely so that those individuals who provide the truth about important, yet sensitive issues, are not subject to brutal backlash which very often comes with the disclosure of sensitive information.
    The reason why this is even discussed, is because the government narrative is collapsing, everyone is sorting out the truth for themselves and those in positions of power do not like the fact that people understand that those in positions of power are a cable of puppets, criminals and grifters. The attempt to remove anonymity will provide a rationale for any number of government agencies and/or hate groups (they are not mutuallly exclusive) to attack individuals for simply providing kernels of wisdom or telling the truth.

  • Chili

    Congress has no authority to legislate away the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. If they did, they would have eviscerated the 2nd Amendment as well. (They don’t DARE try that!)
    Federal law (or Acts passed by Congress) does NOT trump the Constitution. It only applies to people who have never read the Constitution or don’t understand what it says (or to people who write articles like this one.)
    These Acts passed by congress are NOT the “law of the land”. Congress is just sticking their big toes in the water again, to see what they can get away with and gauge how uneducated Amerika’s slave population is.
    Too bad we can’t just ignore them…because it seems they will never go away. Especially when idiot voters keep re-electing them for additional terms. It wobbles the mind.

  • oldstretch

    Fact is that many newspapers now require you to sign your ” letter to the editor” so it will be published. In many cases this stops free speech. Who dares to be critical of local police missteps or openly whistle blow corrupt government? Lets face it there are many wrongs that an average citizen might address but fear for self and family stops it in its tracks.

  • JRP

    Who monitors you DHS! Idiots!