Patterico's Pontifications


WE HAVE NO CHOICE But to Overreact and Restrict Your Freedoms

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:57 pm

Two absurd pieces tell us WE HAVE NO CHOICE but to restrict freedoms, because DANGERS!

First, we have Chicago Law Professor (!) Eric Posner telling us: ISIS Gives Us No Choice but to Consider Limits on Speech.

NO CHOICE, I tells ya!

Never before in our history have enemies outside the United States been able to propagate genuinely dangerous ideas on American territory in such an effective way—and by this I mean ideas that lead directly to terrorist attacks that kill people. The novelty of this threat calls for new thinking about limits on freedom of speech.

. . . .

But there is something we can do to protect people like Amin from being infected by the ISIS virus by propagandists, many of whom are anonymous and most of whom live in foreign countries. Consider a law that makes it a crime to access websites that glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS or support recruitment by ISIS; to distribute links to those websites or videos, images, or text taken from those websites; or to encourage people to access such websites by supplying them with links or instructions. Such a law would be directed at people like Amin: naïve people, rather than sophisticated terrorists, who are initially driven by curiosity to research ISIS on the Web.

The law would provide graduated penalties. After the first violation, a person would receive a warning letter from the government; subsequent violations would result in fines or prison sentences. The idea would be to get out the word that looking at ISIS-related websites, like looking at websites that display child pornography, is strictly forbidden. As word spread, people like Amin would be discouraged from searching for ISIS-related websites and perhaps be spared radicalization and draconian punishment for more serious terrorism-related crimes.

. . . .

One worry about such a law is that it would discourage legitimate ISIS-related research by journalists, academics, private security agencies, and the like. But the law could contain broad exemptions for people who can show that they have a legitimate interest in viewing ISIS websites. Press credentials, a track record of legitimate public commentary on blogs and elsewhere, academic affiliations, employment in a security agency, and the like would serve as adequate proof.

There’s nothing like a law where you get to try to convince the government to allow you to engage in, and hear, free speech.

The major justification for freedom of speech is the marketplace of ideas—the claim that if people can say whatever they want, the best ideas will flourish. But just what is it that we can learn from ISIS? The social value of beheading apostates? The finer points of crucifixion? Those who regard free speech as fundamental need to consider whether legal principles that arose centuries ago make sense in the age of Snapchat. It is possible, as Cass Sunstein has explained in Bloomberg View, to modify the current test for free speech violations so as to advance public safety without throwing out important protections for dissent. A simple balancing test would permit laws to target dangerous speech that does not advance public debate.

Who decides whether the speech has value, “Professor”? You? Cass Sunstein? The editors of the L.A. Times? Barack Obama?

Something about a camel’s nose and a tent comes to mind. Now let’s move to the L.A. Times editorial board, which writes: Threat to L.A. schools shows what it means to be terrorized:

The email appears to have been a hoax, a mean-spirited effort to force more than a million people to change their daily patterns out of fear.

No matter. Even though there appear to be no explosives-laden backpacks, no mysterious packages and no actual plan to harm children, the online threats that led to the closure Tuesday of every Los Angeles Unified school and preschool demonstrate for Angelenos what it means to be terrorized.

As Supt. Ramon Cortines noted, the district receives threats all the time. But with the San Bernardino shootings still a vivid memory, and with a somewhat more detailed threat in hand, district officials believed they had little choice but to close the schools. Had anything happened to a student or teacher, the horror would have been unspeakable, a wound from which it would be hard to recover. It’s easy to understand why the district erred on the side of safety.

The costs of doing this are heavy, though. The already cash-strapped district will probably lose millions of dollars in state aid as a consequence of closing. Thousands upon thousands of parents were forced to change their work plans for the day; chances are that many of those will not be paid, and that’s a sacrifice that L.A. Unified families can ill afford. Meanwhile, other cities worry that the district has just shown malefactors around the world how to inflict a major economic blow with a few emails.

This is what terrorism does. The brutal slayings of 14 office workers less than two weeks ago strike such fear into us that a worrisome email can force a shift in our way of life and cost extraordinary sums. Terrorism aims to inflict not just death and injury, but large-scale intimidation that ripples through society long after the attacks are over.

But what options do we as a society have — especially when the possible victims are children?


Gee, editors. You could do what New York City did, and decide it’s a hoax. People can debate whether the right choice was made. I don’t think it was. But it is ridiculous to act as if WE HAVE NO CHOICE because think of the children!

640,000 children did not go to school today. Many of those children are too young to leave home by themselves. It is obvious that many people could not go to work — meaning businesses were shuttered, money was lost, and perhaps someone was injured or even killed in the resultant chaos. But we’ll likely never know and never hear about it.

There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs. To act as if protecting the safety of the children AT ALL COSTS is OUR ONLY CHOICE means that any yo-yo with a cell phone or an email account can tie up a city and cost millions of dollars any time they feel like it. That is insanity. Clearly, if a threat like this were made every day, we would soon discover other choices.

Folks, we do have a choice. We can protect the First Amendment even though there is an ISIS. We can evaluate risks and make decisions even if children are involved. To suggest that WE HAVE NO CHOICE is lazy and irresponsible thinking.

31 Responses to “WE HAVE NO CHOICE But to Overreact and Restrict Your Freedoms”

  1. Professional swatting is the new norm.

    mg (31009b)

  2. A student was killed today in traffic. H/T Kevin M.

    DRJ (15874d)

  3. So sad.

    mg (31009b)

  4. I saw that, DRJ, but the student was headed to school, thinking it was open.

    Was the truck that hit him responding in some way to the threat? I don’t know, although it’s not impossible.

    I’m not sure this tragedy is proof of what I suggested — that an overreaction can have collateral consequences that can be injurious and perhaps even fatal — but it is a reminder that it’s possible.

    Patterico (86c8ed)

  5. Him, not her. I fixed it.

    Patterico (86c8ed)

  6. Posher would be wise to research the limits placed on HIS power.

    Colonel Haiku (382a53)

  7. Eric is the son of the Seventh Circuit judge.

    nk (dbc370)

  8. The Seventh Circuit judge has behaved in an increasingly erratic fashion.

    Patterico (86c8ed)

  9. Posher? This damn new iPhone6!

    Colonel Haiku (382a53)

  10. Yes i’m not confident they could fine tune such a law in implementation.

    narciso (732bc0)

  11. Yes, Patterico, Daddy is also all over the place in his jurisprudence.

    nk (dbc370)

  12. Who decides whether the speech has value, “Professor”? You? Cass Sunstein? The editors of the L.A. Times? Barack Obama?

    Yeah, that sounds about right.

    — Lefties everywhere

    JVW (d60453)

  13. Ate Mexican, found out it doesn’t agree with him.

    Colonel Haiku (382a53)

  14. I wonder if the Judge recuses himself from every case involving Kirkland & Ellis, the law firm endowing his son’s chair at UofC.

    nk (dbc370)

  15. On second thought it’s an exceeding stupid law, we need to see where these sites are ala jawa, and they need not to be able to communicate through them.

    narciso (732bc0)

  16. It’s interesting to note that the left seems to think the problem with America is too much freedom. That’s also the position of ISIS and other islamists.


    Arizona CJ (331a26)

  17. We need more information not less, that is the lesson of San bernardino, well one of them. Maybe ponder is going for a Smith act, but very poorly.

    narciso (732bc0)

  18. Liberals in 2003: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

    Liberals in 2015: “We have no choice but to restrict free speech.”

    Liberals in 2017: “A Republican’s president now? What did we say in 2003 about free speech again?”

    tops116 (d094f8)

  19. What happened to “That’s not what Amnerica’s about”?

    AZ Bob (34bb80)

  20. We would be safer if we restricted the freedom of liberals throughout America, first by putting an iron-clad muzzle on their mouths and then by picking all of them up and banishing them to, say, Puerto Rico or Cuba, or — closer to home — central Detroit or Ferguson, Missouri, or, better yet, the most reactionary, most pro-Muslim neighborhoods in the Middle East.

    Mark (f713e4)

  21. The law would provide graduated penalties. After the first violation, a person would receive a warning letter from the government; subsequent violations would result in fines or prison sentences.

    this is similar to the idea where you force employers to man the front lines of border security

    failmerica lol

    happyfeet (831175)

  22. The way I remember it speech is restricted already. ISIS snuff films were expunged from the youtube as fast as they appeared. People had their accounts closed for daring to link to current events.

    Here’s the thing though – in spite of the vicious defacto squelching of the 1st amendment so there is no record to really compare – I really doubt that ISIS can show me something as shockingly obscene as a current Quentin Tarentino film, or any of a plethora of today’s zombie flicks.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  23. perhaps be spared … draconian punishment for more serious terrorism-related crimes

    this Eric Posner person is even fruitier than Dr. Ben Carson

    happyfeet (831175)

  24. If we do pass such a law, why would we go after the people who view the social media and not the people who publish them? It wouldn’t break my heart to lock up Jeff Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin, along with Chris Hughes and Tim Cook to provide them conjugal privileges.

    nk (dbc370)

  25. That’s going for the conjugalar vein, nk!

    felipe (b5e0f4)

  26. If you think this is bad, wait until Trump is the nominee. I think it is getting inevitable. Another attack or two will do it for sure.

    This threat might have been a probe. Testing reaction.

    Mike K (90dfdc)

  27. When Trump starts looking reasonable to me, like he did last night, I worry about my mental status. We have a history of dementia in my family. It was only women so far, but it was on both sides. And I had a new crown put in and it’s still tender after nine days; it’s a miserable rainy day; and I still have three more gifts to buy. I’m totally out of sorts.

    nk (dbc370)

  28. Yes they plan these operation, three to five years out, ali Mohammed scouted out the embassies as long as this.

    narciso (094d9b)

  29. The other, long term, choice we have is to privatize the schools so that no school district is more than, say, 5,000 students.

    David Aitken (e0d788)

  30. I don’t see a problem. Speech should be licensed and regulated like cars.

    Before you are allowed to express an opinion publically, you must be licensed (minimum age 16). If you move from one state to another, you have a certain amount of time to get a new license, to make sure your public opinions are acceptable to your new home.

    If you use tools to express your speech (like computers, smartphones, pen and paper) these must be registered with the state.

    Finally, you need to carry a minimum level of liability insurance in case your speech hurts someone’s feelings.

    malclave (4ddf38)

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