By Katie Kieffer
President Obama is mass-texting me although I never opted into his texts. I feel like he controls my phone remotely. So, I’m texting him back: HEY PREZ, WILL U PLS STOP TXTING ME?! AND WHILE UR AT IT, STOP SPYING ON ME W/ DRONES. I’D LIKE SOME PRIVACY. THX!
Friday, July 6 was the day many Americans were on an extended 4th of July vacation and paying more attention to barbecuing and lighting fireworks than the news. Obama seized the day to bypass Congress and release an executive order whereby he effectively gave himself control over the infrastructure that supports your smartphone, internet, radio, TV and satellite dish. This infrastructure includes “…wireline, wireless, satellite, cable, and broadcasting, and… transport networks that support the Internet…” according to the website for the Department of Homeland Security’s National Communications Systems.
The President argues that that he “must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances” for the sake of “national security and emergency preparedness (NS/EP).”
There’s one teensy weensy problem with this executive order: It’s unconstitutional.
First, nowhere in the Constitution does the federal government or the executive branch have the power to control private property (like cell phones) or private companies (like wireless providers and TV and radio stations) “at all times and under all circumstances.”
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…” But the Constitution does not say that President is “Commander in Chief” of private communications businesses (think Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, FOX News or CNN.)
Secondly, this executive order violates the Fourth Amendment freedoms of businesses like Apple, whose late co-founder, Steve Jobs, spent decades building a profitable company based on a relationship of trust with customers. Jobs said:
“We [Apple] take privacy extremely seriously. As an example, we worry a lot about location in phones. And we worry that some, you know, 14-year-old is gonna get stalked and something terrible is gonna happen because of our phone. And so, as an example, before any app can get location data, we don’t make it a rule that they have to put up a panel and ask because they might not follow that rule. They call our location services and we put up the panel saying: ‘This app wants to use your location data. Is that OK with you?’ Every time they want to use it. And we do a lot of things like that to ensure that people understand what these apps are doing. …Privacy means people know what they are signing up for in plain English and repeatedly. That’s what it means. I’m an optimist. I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask ‘em. Ask ‘em every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re gonna do with their data.”
The Fourth Amendment states that Americans have the right “to be secure in” their private property. Certainly it seems within reason for the federal government to purchase (not confiscate) select airwaves to communicate during national emergencies. But Americans still must have the choice whether or not to purchase a device like a TV or radio and use it to listen to the news and receive emergency updates.
The Fourth Amendment does not permit the President to literally take over private communications companies and individual cell phones. It does not permit the President to send individuals text messages that they cannot opt out of, to change the text tone on their phone to something obnoxious that they will recognize as “from the President” or to force the device to start vibrating just in case they didn’t hear the obnoxious text tone.
Per this executive order, the President and members of his “NS/EP Executive Committee” such as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano can send you text messages that will interrupt your company meeting, job interview or first date just to say something like: “The federal government believes that all Americans should exercise extreme caution while traveling to Europe or Mexico.”
I think Americans will eventually tune out text messages giving them updates on potential national emergencies, severe weather alerts and Amber Alerts just like they tuned out the TSA’s red/orange/yellow/blue/green color-coded alert system.
This executive order seems to be “eminent domain” on steroids. The federal government is basically declaring all communications companies and devices to be for “public use.”
On the bright side, I can ask my wireless provider to start sending my monthly phone bill to the White House. After all, I don’t own my iPhone anymore; Obama does.