By Chelsea Schilling
A nonprofit public interest law firm is demanding that the White House
withdraw a citizen "snitch" program that seeks to collect information on
those who make "fishy" statements about President Obama's health care
As WND reported, the White House announced the program Aug. 4, pleading with
people around the nation to forward to a White House e-mail address anything
they see "about health insurance reform that seems fishy."
In his post on the White House blog, Macon Phillips, White House director of
new media, wrote:
Scary chain e-mails and videos are starting to percolate on the Internet,
breathlessly claiming, for example, to 'uncover' the truth about the
president's health insurance reform positions.
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there,
spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors
often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual
conversation. Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White
House, we're asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on
the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to
The American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, sent a letter to President
Obama today, warning, "This citizen reporting program raises significant
First Amendment concerns.
"For what purpose is this information being gathered?" the ACLJ letter asked
"To whom will the information be disseminated? Is the intent of the program
to stifle free and open debate on the serious policy issues raised by health
care reform? Will you flag media outlets that publish articles critical of
your health care plan?"
Sign the WND petition challenging the Obama administration to stop its
attacks on free speech and the nation's health care system.
The letter, signed by ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow and Director and Senior
Counsel Colby May, noted the "flag" in the White House e-mail address and
asked the question on many people's minds: "For what purpose are these
individuals being 'flagged'?"
Sekulow and May reminded Obama of his Jan 21, 2009, memorandum to heads of
executive departments and agencies on "Transparency and Open Government."
The memo stated that Obama's administration is "committed to creating an
unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to
ensure the public trust and establish a system if transparency, public
participation and collaboration."
However, the ACLJ attorneys warned the president, "Creating a program that
requests individuals to report on their neighbors, co-workers, family
members and friends who express personal opinions in opposition to your
policy choices is not the way to encourage openness and transparency. It is
tantamount to policing ideas. Such a program will only stifle free and open
debate among the citizens of this great country."
The ACLJ noted that the program has already "induced confusion and
uncertainty among the American people as to its purpose and underlying goals
and may appear reminiscent of the FBI's secret surveillance of citizens on
the basis of political beliefs that took place several decades ago.
Sekulow and May continued, "Such confusion could lead some into wondering if
this is a return to COINTELPRO (the FBI'S Counter Intelligence Program
directed against Martin Luther King Jr.), something we are sure you do not
intend. We respectfully request that the program be withdrawn."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
An attorney for Red State noted that the White House's actions may be in
violation of current U.S. Law:
"According to 5 U.S.C. § 552a, United States agencies, including the
Executive Office of the President shall, 'maintain no record describing how
any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless
expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record
is maintained or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized
law enforcement activity.'"
Attorney Eric Erickson noted, "This will be the first significant time the
White House has ignored the Privacy Act and may open President Obama up to
As WND reported, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, demanded that Obama either halt
the program or define how he will protect the privacy of those who send or
are the subject of e-mails to the White House.
"I am not aware of any precedent for a president asking American citizens to
report their fellow citizens to the White house for pure political speech
that is deemed 'fishy' or otherwise inimical to the White House's political
interests," the Texas senator wrote in a letter to Obama.
"By requesting that citizens send 'fishy' e-mails to the White House, it is
inevitable that the names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses, and private
speech of U.S. citizens will be reported. … You should not be surprised that
these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data
Cornyn continued, "I urge you to cease this program immediately. At the very
least, I request that you detail to Congress and the public the protocols
that your White House is following to purge the names, e-mail addresses, IP
addresses, and identities of citizens who are reported to have engaged in
Radio talk show icon Rush Limbaugh also chastised the president.
"Well, I would hate to see what they're going to get now at flag@whitehouse
gov. I wonder what kind of e-mails they're going to get now. They're looking
for tattletales; they're looking for snitches; they're looking for
informants; they want their groupies to tattle on you if you happen to be
telling the truth about what's in the health care plan. The White House has,
as yet, offered no explanation of what it is they plan to do with the tips
on policy opposition they hope to receive from citizen informers."
Bloggers and readers were livid.
Wrote one observer to WND, "In my life I never thought I'd see this happen
in America. What are they going to do with the information they get?? Pure
Added another, "Why wait for a snitch to turn your name in, when you do it
yourself and save them the trouble. It only makes sense."
A third reader simply sent a link to an online history resource that cited
the use of informants during the prelude to World War II.
The e-mail quoted, "An ominous new development within the HJ was the
appearance of HJ-Streifendienst (Patrol Force) units functioning as internal
political police, maintaining order at meetings, ferreting out disloyal
members, and denouncing anyone who criticized Hitler or Nazism including, in
a few cases, their own parents.
"One case involved a teenaged HJ member named Walter Hess who turned in his
father for calling Hitler a crazed Nazi maniac. His father was then hauled
off to Dachau under Schutzhaft (protective custody). For setting such an
example, Hess was promoted to a higher rank within the HJ."
Finally, another reader reported his own concerns about "fishy" behavior to
I am responding to your inquiry regarding fishy information. Please allow me
a moment to explain what I deem to be fishy. The fact that you will not
release your records is highly fishy and suspicious. What do you have to
You want to collect an e-mail of someone who reads and does check into
things? Then please take mine and put it on your list as I am not one of the
uninformed or extremists that you make people who have a voice out to be. We
are hard-working Americans who are tired of politicians spending our money
recklessly and wastefully. Wake up Mr. President! America isn't happy about
your health care bill. Nor are we happy how you are handling our money.