I have a lapel pin at home that states “One Nation … Under Surveillance.” Journalists, citizen journalists, journalism students, social media bloggers and news influencers beware; the Department of Homeland Security wants to watch you.

On April 3, the National Protection and Programs Acquisition Division of the Department of Homeland Security released a request for bids titled “ Media Monitoring Services.” The purpose of the monitoring services would be:

“[T]o monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event. Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools and the ability to identify top media influencers.”

The winner of the bid would have to:

» Monitor more than 290,000 “global news sources” 24/7.

» Monitor more than 100 news outlets.

» Translate news reports from a number of foreign languages to English.

» Develop at least 20 search engines with unlimited keyword searches.

The bid states the “mission is ‘to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyberinfrastructure.” I am not sure what that has to do with journalists.

Unfortunately, as Forbes states in its reporting, “increasing government encroachment on the freedom of the press is the sinister backdrop to all of this.” Freedom House reports, “Global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016 amid unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies and new moves by authoritarian states to control the media, including beyond their borders.” This includes threats by President Trump and company.

Forbes asks: Would DHS’ actions “be a way for the government to keep track of American and foreign journalists as well as ‘citizen journalists,’ threatening not only the freedom of the press but also individual freedom of speech?” In a word, yes.

The president has set his sights on the news services and outlets since the beginning of his campaign. If the news reports something the president does not like, he labels it “fake news.” If the news shows Mr. Trump in anything but a bright white light, he attacks it through his Twitter account. Could this be Trump’s way of stifling the American free press?

Forbes reported that Indiana state representative Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, introduced a bill that would require journalists be licensed in Indiana. He evidently equates the licensing of gun owners in his state and his Second Amendment rights to those of journalists and their First Amendment rights.

Lucas tweeted, “Either you’re for the licensing of a Constitutional right or against it, there’s no picking and choosing, so which is it? #Callthebluffs.” I call and raise you a Supreme Court action.

Lucas was not the first to come up with this ludicrous idea that journalists should be licensed. A 2016 proposed South Carolina bill would have made it a crime if a journalist was not registered with the state.

The Sedition Act of 1798, signed by President John Adams, “permitted the prosecution of individuals who voiced or printed what the government deemed to be malicious remarks about the president or government of the United States. Fourteen Republicans, mainly journalists, were prosecuted and some imprisoned under the act.”

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Sedition Act, which “imposed harsh penalties on anyone found guilty of making false statements that interfered with the prosecution of the war; insulting or abusing the U.S. government, the flag, the Constitution or the military; agitating against the production of necessary war materials; or advocating, teaching or defending any of these acts.”

The Supreme Court ruled against the Sedition Act in 1921, citing a 1919 ruling concerning the free speech clause of the amendment, forcing Congress to repeal the law.

Would the same happen with the proposed Media Monitoring Services being provided to DHS by private concerns? How long would it take for the courts to intervene in the execution of this tactic of limiting the scope of a free and open press in the United States?

The American free press, the Fourth Estate, remains the check and balance of our three branches of government, “holding governments to account for their words and actions.” A free press is vital to the mandate of a free and open government of and for the people. A free press will keep the politicians honest and accountable.

We cannot allow a new sedition act to be mandated by Homeland Security and the office of the president. We cannot tie the hands of the American press by threats and investigations.

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of David’s commentaries at Columbia Missourian.com and InkandVoice.com.

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