The White House on Monday shut down its controversial effort to collect information about what opponents of the president’s health care overhaul were saying in person and on the Internet, but said it will continue to track “misinformation” through its Web site.
Republicans vowed to investigate the campaign, which they said was reminiscent of President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and Big Brother in the novel “1984”.
The White House was mum on the matter throughout the day Monday, and then posted a brief blog item in the evening explaining the changes it was making to the program that it launched earlier this month in response to growing opposition to the president’s health care reform proposals.
Macon Phillips, director of new media at the White House, wrote that it was “ironic that the launch of an online program meant to provide facts about health insurance reform has itself become the target of fear-mongering.”
He said an e-mail address set up to collect information about “fishy” rumors circulating by e-mail, Web sites and conversation had been shut down. But he added that the White House will continue to gather information through its Web site, “to better understand what new misinformation is bubbling up online or in other venues.”
He requested that people who flag information for the White House and submit it via the Web site “refrain from submitting others’ information without permission,” but he did not rule out that that might still happen.
Republicans said they intended to look into the matter further. Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, sent a letter Monday to White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, asking for more information.
“The fear has been expressed that the White House was asking neighbors to inform on neighbors in a government-led data collection effort,” Mr. Issa wrote in the four-page letter. “To help ease these concerns, please tell us what actions take place or have been discussed in regard to e-mails deemed ‘fishy’ and what safeguards the White House has put in place to insure no retributive steps are taken against those who express dissent.”
The White House has not responded to Mr. Issa’s questions.
The controversy was touched off when Mr. Phillips began an effort to counter “disinformation about health insurance reform” in an entry posted Aug. 4 on the White House Web site blog.
“Rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation,” Mr. Phillips wrote. “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 email@example.com.”
Republicans and conservative groups quickly pointed out that because the Presidential Records Act requires the White House to keep a record of all its communication, it could not get rid of forwarded e-mails that included information about ordinary Americans even if they wanted to.
“It is inevitable that the names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House. You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, in a letter to the White House on Aug. 5.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal organization based in Washington, said Monday that it was happy to see the White House program discontinued.
“This program was problematic from the very beginning, and we called on President Obama to rescind it,” said Jay Sekulow, ACLJ’s chief counsel. “This ‘flagging’ operation was nothing more than an attempt to stifle free speech and intimidate those who did not agree with the president.”View Entire Story
By Elaine Donnelly
Extending sexual misconduct to combat units
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Wall Street news before (and occasionally after) the opening bell.
One man’s perspective. Exploration and commentary designed to challenge the conventional thinking of day on the political issues affecting our nation.
Politics, economics, and business from a real world perspective.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention