Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 25, 2012

Americans protective of 1st freedoms


Some states — most notably, Illinois — have laws that limit or even criminalize the act of taking video or photographs of police activities in public. But the public overwhelmingly endorses the idea of holding authorities accountable through digital imagery, with 85 percent saying such activities should be allowed.

A majority — 57 percent — opposes allowing public schools to discipline students who use personal computers at home to post material that authorities say is offensive.

And though 59 percent of respondents are OK with the government being able to prosecute those who illegally distribute copyrighted music and movies online, they draw a distinction on what's "illegal" or not: 46 percent say using copyrighted material without paying a fee is fine as long as no money is being made. If there's a profit motive, 64 percent say a fee should be paid.

About two-thirds of respondents said the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong in a 2010 decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which removed federal campaign spending limits on corporations and unions. The Court said it was protecting political free speech — the most protected kind of speech — for those groups. But by 65 percent to 30 percent, those surveyed opposed the idea of such wide-open spending.

Even in the event of a national emergency, it would seem, we want our Facebook and Twitter — and all the rest of the World Wide Web: 59 percent disagreed with giving the government the power to take emergency control of the Internet and limit access to social media.

But at least for now, such power is in place. Last week, President Obama signed an executive order, the "Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions," that authorizes federal officials to take control over telecommunications and the Web during natural disasters and national-security emergencies.

For those aiming to roll back that order, consider that history says we may well be only one crisis away from broad public support for such federal control. In 2002, about eight months after the 9/11 terror attacks, the State of the First Amendment survey found that 49 percent said the amendment went "too far" in its freedoms.

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