A prominent physicians’ group is suing the Obama administration, claiming the White House wrongfully collected information and violated First Amendment Rights when it implemented a citizen “snitch” program to collect information on those who make “fishy” statements about the president’s health “reform.”
As WND reported, the White House announced the program Aug. 4, pleading with people around the nation to forward to a White House e-mail address anything they see “about health insurance reform that seems fishy.”
In his post on the White House blog, Macon Phillips, White House director of new media, wrote:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, or AAPS, a non-partisan professional association of physicians, filed a complaint dated Aug. 26 in U.S. District Court. The Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education, or CURE, a social policy think-tank founded by WND columnist Star Parker, is also a named plaintiff alongside AAPS in the complaint.
The White House has “unlawfully collected information on political speech,” thereby illegally using its power to chill opposition to its plans for health care reform, according to the complaint filed in District Court for the District of Columbia.
Less than two weeks after the electronic tip box was announced, Politico reported the administration shut it down after Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote a critical letter to Obama about privacy concerns resulting from the “Obama monitoring program.”
“I can only imagine the level of justifiable outrage had your predecessor asked Americans to forward e-mails critical of his policies to the White House,” Cornyn wrote. “So I urge you to cease this program immediately.”
According to the AAPS, “The e-mail address still exists, the illegal activity continues, and is part of an unlawful pattern and practice to collect and maintain information on the exercise of free speech, which continues in violation of the Privacy Act and First Amendment even if the defendants terminate a particular information-collection component due to negative publicity.”
A WND e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org bounced back with the following message:
“The e-mail address you just sent a message to is no longer in service.”
The message directs the sender to a new health insurance feedback form located at the White House Reality Check website.
Bounce-back message from e-mail sent to email@example.com
The Reality Check page asks senders to “please refrain from submitting any individual’s personal information, including their e-mail address, without their permission.”
White House Reality Check asks senders to “refrain from submitting any individual’s personal information, includingtheir e-mail address, without their permission.”
The lawsuit warns, “No law or constitutional provision authorizes the defendants’ collection and maintenance of such information, and the Privacy Act prohibits the collection and maintenance of such information for ‘agencies’ as defined by the Privacy Act.”
AAPS and CURE accused the White House of attempting to chill free speech:
“In the public policy debate, the executive branch of the federal government enjoys and advantage in its ability to chill speech by affected members of the public (i.e., to intimidate the public), particularly in regulated professions such as medicine,” the complaint states. “Removing the executive branch’s ability to chill speech would provide plaintiffs a more equal footing in the public-policy debate over health-care reform.”
According to the complaint, both AAPS and CURE suspect they were reported to the White House flag address.
“My hate mail started shortly after the White House issued the ‘fishy’ request,” Kathryn Serkes, AAPS director of policy and public affairs, said in a statement. “We were quite visible and vocal before then, so it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. Who did they share their data with? With whom might they share it?”
AAPS and CURE are demanding that the White House expunge all names and identifying information already collected, and be prohibited from collecting personal data in the future.