Contained in the First Amendment of the Constitution is a very important statement that prevents the abridgment of free speech and free press. Challenges to free speech rights have consistently lost in the court system. Now a major bill introduced in New York (Senate Bill 4561) requires people to remove “inaccurate” or “excessive” statements about others. Senate Bill 4561 mandates the following:
- Statements deemed “inaccurate,” “excessive,” “irrelevant,” or “inadequate,” must be removed within 30 days of a ”request from an individual.”
- “All search engines and online speakers” shall remove … content about such individual, and links or indexes to any of the same, that is ‘inaccurate’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘inadequate’ or ‘excessive’.”
The bill also targets content that is “no longer material to current public debate or discourse.”
- For purposes of this section, “inaccurate”, “irrelevant”, “inadequate”, or “excessive” shall mean content, which after a significant lapse in time from its first publication, is no longer material to current public debate or discourse, especially when considered in light of the financial, reputational and/or demonstrable other harm that the information, article or other content is causing to the requester’s professional, financial, reputational or other interest, with the exception of content related to convicted felonies, legal matters relating to violence, or a matter that is of significant current public interest, and as to which the requester’s role with regard to the matter is central and substantial.
This sweeping measure is led by Democrats in New York’s Senate. Not only does it limit freedom of speech using subjective measures, but it also requires published material with a “significant lapse in time” to be taken down.
It can easily be asked: what exactly do terms like inaccurate, irrelevant, or excessive mean? Senate Bill 4561 appears to define them broadly, handing the government extreme authority over what people say. The attack here is on written content online, which pertains to both the constitutionally protected right of speech and the right of the press. Even the Washington Post called out the Democrats’ latest move to silence opposition:
So, under this bill, newspapers, scholarly works, copies of books on Google Books and Amazon, online encyclopedias (Wikipedia and others) — all would have to be censored whenever a judge and jury found (or the author expected them to find) that the speech was “no longer material to current public debate or discourse” (except when it was “related to convicted felonies” or “legal matters relating to violence” in which the subject played a “central and substantial” role). And of course the bill contains no exception even for material of genuine historical interest; after all, such speech would have to be removed if it was “no longer material to current public debate.” Nor is there an exception for autobiographic material, whether in a book, on a blog or anywhere else. Nor is there an exception for political figures, prominent businesspeople and others.”
Constitutional rights are worth fighting for, even unto death. Americans should never sit idly as a single one of them is threatened. Senate Bill 4561 guarantees regression of rights, not progression. It guarantees authoritarianism, not personal freedoms. It cannot pass, and if it does, the response of the American people should be dramatic.