The White House, through a recently signed order, has given the executive branch emergency control of America’s communications including the Internet and media outlets. It’s the president’s second executive order in five months which binds more citizens’ freedoms under federal government emergency authority.
What’s the unstated significance of these two orders involving “emergency preparedness?” President Barack Obama placed the nation under a year’s limited emergency last September, an extension of yearly limited emergencies since 2001 based on America’s worldwide “war on terror.” So, since we’re under a state of emergency, it would seem he could activate the orders and take emergency control at any time.
Obama on July 6 ordered that emergency control of communications would occur under an executive committee made up of “heads of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Commerce, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the General Services Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as such additional agencies as the Executive Committee may designate. The designees of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense shall serve as Co-Chairs of the Executive Committee.”
The Secretary of Defense would “oversee the development, testing, implementation, and sustainment of NS/EP [national security/emergency preparedness] communications that are directly responsive to the national security needs” of the White House.
The Secretary of Homeland Security would oversee communications at every level of government throughout the nation. The secretary’s other duties also include power to “maintain a joint industry-Government center that is capable of assisting in the initiation, coordination, restoration, and reconstitution of NS/EP communications services or facilities under all conditions of emerging threats, crisis, or emergency.”
Homeland Security also will exercise authority over telecommunications, wireless and “next generation” service.
In May, a Homeland Security attorney indicated that the department was planning to eventually take control of the Internet. Such a move by government logically would end citizens’ Constitutional right to freedom of expression, including limiting them to sharing only government-approved information.
Bruce McConnell, a senior cybersecurity counselor with DHS, reported to a cybersecurity gathering in Washington on May 2 that DHS will establish “institutions” on the Internet to govern it, including working with other nations to determine what content is “proper.”
Under the most recent executive order, the Commerce secretary would oversee radio spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission would control radio and television broadcasting.
Deep within the 2,231-word order, Obama states, “With respect to the Intelligence Community, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], after consultation with the heads of affected agencies, may issue such policy directives and guidance as the DNI deems necessary to implement this order. Procedures or other guidance issued by the heads of elements of the Intelligence Community shall be in accordance with such policy directives or guidelines issued by the DNI.”
In March, Obama signed an executive order on “National Defense Resources Preparedness.”
Edwin Black in The Huffington Post says that the order “renews and updates the president’s power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country.”
The president indicates in the orders that the department functions he outlines are designated by law. Also, Congress has provided the president with vast powers under the National Emergencies Act.
The question: Why has Obama decided to activate these executive orders as he approaches the end of his four-year term, since he’s placed the nation under a limited emergency from his first year in office?
Obama evidently doesn’t announce the orders, or take questions. He simply and quietly signs the orders. Presidential custom. The nation’s chief executive always has the power of the “bully pulpit,” but when it comes to taking control over freedoms, he may not always want to use it.