Citizen Privacy Under Attack During Coronavirus Pandemic

March 30, 2020

Activists and elected officials who are opposed to citizen privacy are attempting to take advantage of the current crisis to advance their anti-free speech agenda.

Last week, Congressional Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to insert regulations that would limit First Amendment rights into the CARES Act. The purpose of this critical legislation was to provide relief to individuals and businesses who are being impacted by the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The additional language would have put limits on companies who receive aid and their ability to engage in future lobbying activities, and it also would have increased Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure requirements for companies that belong to trade associations or make contributions to non-profit organizations. Analysis from the Institute for Free Speech explained that “Congress cannot force the recipient of a federal benefit to choose between forfeiting her constitutional rights and receiving that benefit.”

Matt Nese from the Institute for Free Speech discussed the issue on a recent episode of From the Swamp to the States- an ATR Podcast.

The proposed language said that “if you accept aid, you need to shut up. What at all does this have to do with responding to COVID-19? The answer is nothing. The language is from another bill that was introduced in Congress two months ago before this outbreak happened. It attempts to name and shame businesses, and any group associated with that business, so that opponents can see who donates to them and criticize those businesses for doing so. This is unconstitutional. It’s remarkable that this is how the House decided this is how they will respond to COVID-19.”

“It’s shameful that you have people in power trying to silence speech from groups that may need help right now, and businesses that might need help, purely in an unrelated and unconstitutional way that’s unrelated to what’s going on with this public health crisis.”

Doug Kellogg from Americans for Tax Reform added: “The government needs to have a strong response to this, but it’s twisted to have the government forcing shut down – even if it’s for a good reason – and then the House wants to turn that into an extortion plot so that companies have to sacrifice their free speech rights in order to get aid for actions that the government took to shut down travel, close businesses, all these different rules that are happening at the state and local level.”

Matt Miller from the Goldwater Institute also wrote, “unlike past crises, like the 2008 financial crash, there isn’t even any allegation that the businesses we’re trying to help did anything to bring about their current difficulties. They did not create COVID-19 and unleash it on the world. They did not engage in bad behavior that caused the crisis. And forcing businesses to publicly disclose their giving to nonprofits and trade associations will do nothing to ensure that any coronavirus stimulus money is wisely spent.”

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