Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

White House Seizes Control of Internet by Executive Order

Author: Eric Sharp
Created: 15 July, 2012
Updated: 23 August, 2023
4 min read

In an unprecedented step for executive power, President Obama signed an Executive Order on July 6th that allows the executive branch to seize control of all communications infrastructure in the United States, public and private:

"Without even the faintest toot of a fanfare, President Barack Obama has issued an Executive Order that outlines an extreme level of communications preparedness in case of crisis or emergency, including the ability to take over any communication network, including the internet.The Order, 'Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions,' takes many of the US government’s existing emergency communications preparations, and codifies the exact responsibilities of the various US secretaries/departments and intelligence agencies. For the most part, the Order is very sensible; basically, no matter what — come hurricanes, earthquakes, or nuclear war — the US government 'must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances to carry out its most critical and time sensitive missions.'"

One can expect governments to plan for all kinds of emergencies-- i.e. meteor strikes, wars, uprisings, (etc.). Several continuity plans are already in place. But if this latest executive order sounds unbelievable, then it probably should, because with the stroke of a pen, President Obama has entered America into a new paradigm.

No longer is it enough for Washington to simply use, cooperate with, or listen to private communications. Now the president claims the authority to order all of it seized-- as in nationalized under federal control. In a sense, however, this sweeping new order is only somewhat unprecedented, at least in the Bush-Obama era of executive power. Potential seizure of communications infrastructure simply folds into a laundry list of resources that Obama declared authority to seize and manage in another recent Executive Order:

"On March 16th, President Obama signed a new Executive Order which expands upon a prior order issued in 1950 for Disaster Preparedness, and gives the office of the President complete control over all the resources in the United States in times of war or emergency.The National Defense Resources Preparedness order gives the Executive Branch the power to control and allocate energy, production, transportation, food, and even water resources by decree under the auspices of national defense and national security. The order is not limited to wartime implementation, as one of the order's functions includes the command and control of resources in peacetime determinations."

It is troubling how little coverage and scrutiny this event is getting in the mainstream media. Agree with this new policy or not, why aren't Americans even discussing it?

A decade ago Democrats and the antiwar Left let loose a firestorm of criticism over the national security measures of the Bush Administration. Such policies as FISA wiretapping and The Patriot Act were criticized by progressives as not just bad policy, but existential threats to our democratic way of life. Bush, however, merely wanted to listen in on and detain citizens without due process. Obama's administration claims the right of the executive to unilaterally try and execute Americans without due process, and with this new order, the right to actually seize complete control of all communication resources, polices that are arguably far more egregious.

In 2008, many progressives were expecting in the administration of Barack Obama to get a Howard Dean / Ralph Nader / Dennis Kucinich grade progressive presidency, one that would take on Wall Street, scale down Washington's aggressive wars, and restore America's civil liberties. Instead they got a presidency that has not only failed to reverse Bush's precedent-setting expansion of executive power, but actually accelerated it.

As late as 2007, progressive commentators were very concerned about unrestrained executive power. Well-known writer and commentator, Naomi Wolf even wrote a book called The End of America in which she outlined the 10 steps that an open society takes to become a closed society. She cited examples of these steps in practice in the Bush-era United States. Wolf and many in the Occupy community have remained consistent critics of these policies, but where are their progressive allies?

Bush-style conservatives haven't really had much to complain about, but civil liberties oriented conservatives such as Jack Hunter and Rand Paul are alarmed by the actions of the Obama White House. Perhaps the only groups that have remained consistently and vocally skeptical of executive power throughout both the Bush and Obama administrations are libertarians and the far-Left that never accepted Bush nor Obama. Independents, who some works (such as The Declaration of Independents) posit are largely a phenomenon of the Internet age, also have little to be pleased with.

So much of the country is distracted by partisan politics that issues of partisanship dominate the national discussion. Can non-partisans and Independents be the country's conscience because they aren't blinded by this partisanship? Can they lead a serious discussion about executive power?