Blogging and the tyranny of government


Michael Arrington, a prolific blogger in the Tech community, has written a thoughtful piece on bloggers’ right/duty to protect confidential sources in the face of government pressure to do otherwise.  I’d like to post a portion of that article here and ask you what you think of his arguments.  He says:

Last week two bloggers, Steven Frischling and Chris Elliot, were visited by TSA agents and threatened with jail time if they did not reveal their source of the TSA Travel Directive that they each published shortly after the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas day. Frischling caved immediately and handed over his computer. Elliot did not. Since then the Department of Homeland Security has dropped the subpoenas, but there is a bigger issue here. The protection of sources is a cornerstone of our freedom of speech.

As bloggers, we have a duty of confidentiality to our sources. And that means keeping information confidential even if threatened with the tyranny of government. And even if the legislatures and courts haven’t decided that as bloggers we have real rights protecting us from that tyranny.

I’ll never be surprised by a tyrannical government. In a sense, it’s their job. It’s our job as bloggers to stand up to that tyranny, even if our liberty has been threatened. Journalists have gone to jail rather than disclose their sources. If bloggers want the same level of respect, and protection from government by the courts, they need to stand up for what’s right.

And Frischling, when faced with the decision to do what’s right and go to jail, flailed badly. He willingly handed his laptop over to the government…

We have received a number of threats of lawsuits unless we revealed our sources around various sensitive stories. In each case we’ve either ignored the threats or told them to pound sand. In each case the other side backed down.

We’ve also had other situations where we’ve had to consider revealing sources…

I think I can understand how frightened Frischling must have been when the TSA agents showed up at his house. Even though he has has worked for Life, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, and was embedded with troops in Iraq, he “didn’t know what to do.” He caved, and he gave the agents his computer. From Wired:

“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”…

What do you think:

  • Are bloggers private citizens or journalists?
  • Do bloggers have a duty of confidentiality?
  • Should bloggers be held to the same journalistic standards as journalists writing within the protected infrastructure of large organizations?
  • Should people like Frischling risk going to jail to protect their sources?
  • Is it the ‘job’ of government to protect their secrets through legal intimidation?
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Eventually, these same issues will be forced upon us in the financial blogosphere.  The day is not too distant.

Update: I must be incredibly sleep-deprived because I overlooked the case of the Implode-o-Meter sites. They are taking an enormous hit right now because of their coverage on the housing bubble.  Please see my related article here.

All of Arrington’s piece is below.


The Tyranny Of Government And Our Duty Of Confidentiality As Bloggers – Tech Crunch

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