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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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May 21, 2008 4:26 PM

Presidential hopefuls, the Internet, and amnesty

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Some important issues facing the United States have received scant attention in the presidential primaries. Missing has been any meaningful discussion about presidential and federal powers. The Bush administration has done a fine job extending its reach in ways other presidents have not, either because Congress stopped them or they had the good sense to respect for the citizenry.

I want to know what presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton think about the current administrations use of warrantless spying, FISA, and extraordinary rendition. Where are the candidates on amnesty for the telecommunications companies that helped the administration's domestic spying? Not exactly topics being discussed by the pundits or posed to the candidates by the press.

Wired's Threat Level blog has an entry answer the amnesty question. A McCain lawyer speaking at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Connecticut said that his boss would not support immunity for the telecoms. Wired's Ryan Singel points out that this is a different position for McCain.

"The remarks from Chuck Fish, a full-time lawyer for the McCain campaign and a Time Warner vice president, represent a big change on the issue for McCain, who voted in February to keep immunity in the Senate spying bill. Fish was careful to say, however, that he was answering a double-hypothetical question -- if McCain wins, and if the issue is still alive in 2009."

Daniel Weitzner, of MIT and Obama's surrogate at the conference, pointed out that Obama voted against immunity, and added:

"Sen. Obama has supported all along that when government surveillance techniques are used that there must be real meaningful oversight and real checks and balances."

Encouraging words from a would-be president who has witnessed the congressional roll-over when it comes to domestic spying.

Fish and Weitzner also talked about their candidate's positions on net neutrality. Obama has talked about his support of net neutrality legislation in a number of forums. I have never seen a reporter ask the question. The question is usually asked by an audience member. The public understands the importance of net neutrality, too bad the press seems occupied with other matters. Obama repeatedly gives coherent, informed answers as to why he supports net neutrality. Clinton gave a canned response the one time I read about her position on an open Internet.

McCain is as bad on the question of net neutrality as Obama is good. This was reinforced by Fish. He said that McCain is "skeptical of wide-ranging legislation," and that he prefers the market to determine corporate actions.

Not sure what wide-ranging legislation Fish is talking about. The net neutrality bills currently in Congress are mild at most. A bill introduced by Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Charles Pickering, R-Miss, would simply insert some baseline language into the 1934 Communications Act. ensuring the Internet remains an open platform for all legal content.

More news outlets should be pushing the candidates on these issues. While not as explosive or headline grabbing as Iraq, or the appeasement of Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, these are domestic issues that will shape the future of our nation. These are topics that need to be vetted in the general election.

UPDATE: Wanted to post an update to an earlier post about Republican presidential candidate John McCain's position on granting amnesty to telecommunication companies.

I linked to Wired story that quoted a McCain surrogate speaking at a the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Connecticut. The surrogate said that McCain would not support amnesty for telecoms that had helped the government with domestic spying.

McCain's campaign folks sent a note to Wired explaining that the Arizona Senator has supported amnesty and still supports amnesty.

Too bad.

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