President Barack Obama will assume control of U.S. communications should he feel that national security and/or emergency preparedness issues are present as per his executive order of July 6, 2012. There was no consultation with Congress whose constitutional right is to make all law (Art. I, Sec. I). Although not defined, control of all communication presumably meant everything including the Internet as per Section 5 of the Order, although not specifically named. All such was placed under the authority of the White House. (See July 6, 2012).

Congress had wrestled with the “need” for Internet and cyberspace control for several years even attempting to control the Internet in 2009, but the bills they had originated met with such enormous opposition by the people that the subject was, moved to the back burner. The people clearly did not want government having, what they termed, a “kill switch” on the Internet even during time of national security. Enter the President and his executive order entitled, “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Telecommunications Functions.” The Order sounds innocent enough, everybody wants “national security” and “emergency preparedness” but neither phrase is defined. Left undefined it remains the discretion of the office of president alone, whether republican or democrat, to decide what it means. After all, what isn’t “national security?”

Taking law-making power from Congress to influence private communication industries is constitutionally questionable as is the Executive Order itself. It began with the usual statement of authority. “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America.” Presidential authority would be found in Article II, Sections 2 and 3, or in an amendment to the Constitution enacted thereafter. In this case there is none.

At this point a president should cite the recently passed law of Congress that legitimizes and authorizes the order. The copy from The White House, Office of the Press Secretary identifies none. Some suggest that this executive order is an extension of the Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12472 of 1984, which cites the Communications Act of 1934, as amended …, the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended…, the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, as amended …, the Disaster Relief Act of 1974…, Section 5 of Reorganization Plan No.1 of 1977…, and Section 203 of Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978….” Whether from a past Reagan executive order or not, if justification is not from Congress and recent, and instead is simply pieces of ancient laws glued together, a president risks being accused of making new law, a function of Congress alone. Only the first five citations come from Congress and these were all over 34 years old. No recent Congress has approved a thing. Again, there was no authority cited in the Order. The argument that presidents before Obama made up law as well does not make the practice constitutional.

Of course, the “Federal Government must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances to carry out its most critical and time sensitive missions.” But it has always had such. When has it not? Congress, not the president, should discern the need for, and limit to, the power to “takeover” the secular private communications industry and even they cannot do so without an amendment to the Constitution authorizing such. It is not their property.

No rational was given as to why a free people would need extensive governmental control over communications. Such was not needed in World War I, nor when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in World War II, nor was it even suggested during the Cold War, when some citizens were building bomb shelters in their basements. We are told that we spend more money on our military than all the other countries of the world combined. Control of all communication is not one of the President’s listed constitutional powers. Where is the threat that justifies this overreach?

This self-empowering order left control of all communications to the discretion of the President alone (whether an Obama or a Romney as executive orders just move to the next president) as to when such conditions warranted his implementation of it. Nor were circumstances noted when such would end allowing the return of control or confiscated property and free communication permitted once again. Nor was there any noted role for our elected Congress. It is being neutered by executive orders. There was no debate and apparently no resistance. Nor was there any role noted for local civil authority—the first responders.

In light of the National Defense Authorization Act that allows the military to arrest U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and ship them to, and detained indefinitely in, Guantanamo Bay Prison without right of a judge, trial, or Bill of Rights protection, signed into law by the president last New Years Eve, this is especially serious. Add his National Defense Resource Preparedness Executive Order of March 16, 2012, which allows the Executive Branch of government to confiscate all food, water, fuel and etc. if they define a situation, or location, as a national emergency—again by the office of president alone. Tell us why we should now trust the office of president (again whether an Obama or a Romney), with control of all communication as well?

Harold Pease

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