Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

Summary: The big reason we're better: they don't execute you for blogging in America. Sometimes your page rank goes down, but it's not quite the same thing.


Yesterday was President's Day here in the United States. It's a strange little holiday, in part because even what's being celebrated is unclear both legislatively, and between the states and federal government.

Briefly, the holiday is and always has been officially Washington's Birthday, celebrating the birth of our first president, George Washington. And even that has some degree of controversy, because when ol' George was born, it was on February 11, 1732, according to the Julian calendar. But when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, the date George popped in the world suddenly became February 22.

And then there's Lincoln. When I grew up, we got a day off from school for Washington's birthday and another for Abe Lincoln's. Apparently, we were particularly bratty back in New Jersey, and the state did everything it could to get away from us little monsters, including celebrating two holidays in the same month.

In any case, sometime in the late sixties, having nothing better to do with its time, Congress decided to stick all federal holidays on Mondays and somehow combined Washington's birthday with Lincoln's and thus begat President's Day. The only problem is that although most Americans think we're celebrating President's Day, we're not. The holiday is still officially Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's birthday has been conveniently lost, and well, you get the idea. Your tax dollars at work.

So how does this all bring us to Iran? If you've been following Violet Blue's excellent reporting on the crackdown on bloggers and social networkers in Iran, you'll begin to understand how severe censorship can get in a truly regressive and repressive society. It's deeply disturbing.

See also: Iran’s Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

There's not even any tangible evidence of wrongdoing, and it's likely web site operators and bloggers will be put to death, and that's after torture.

Now, contrast that with the United States. Yesterday, I ran a very tongue-in-cheek gallery honoring some of our favorite presidents. Well, honoring them is probably going too far. Mostly, I mocked.

I imagined what pick-up lines would have been like for James Buchanan, our only bachelor president. I called Ronald Reagan a moderate and then proceeded to lampoon not just Newt Gingrich (low hanging fruit) but even Mitt Romney. I went to town with Bill Clinton and a company called Cigar Monster. I mentioned a blow-up Karl Rove doll and did a mission-accomplished dig with George W. Bush. And I even questioned the effectiveness of the current sitting president.

See also: Gallery: Presidents and their not so presidential apps

In Iran, they'd be pulling off my fingernails by now.

I was helped by other editors here at ZDNet, who gathered images and some background information. In Iran, their families would have been rounded up for questioning by now.

You know what happened after I went full monty mocking our leaders? You know what happens to me whenever I go fully monty mocking our leaders? Do you have any idea how often I mock our leaders? It's virtually a full-time job. And, well, it's not really full monty. I wear sweatpants.

The worst that ever happens is I get ignored. Sometimes readers get cranky. And then, on good days, I get a call from a staffer in a Congressman's office, a chief-of-staff in an admiral's office, or a special agent in charge from a three-letter law enforcement agency.

I don't even get yelled at by these people (well, not counting our readers). But our government representatives often tell me how fun they find my writing. Sometimes, they're nice enough to point me to additional information, or why they think my characterization of "their guy" is a little too harsh. Once in a while, I get asked to do some pro-bono advisory work.

In no case has anyone threatened to put me to death (well, not counting our readers). In no case has any federal official asked me to change my story, edit my story, or censor my story. Now, to be fair, I have access to a lot of sensitive information and have never published anything which is restricted. That's part of why I'm trusted with sensitive information.

But, back to the point. In Iran, if you complain slightly or even are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you're tortured and executed. Here, you're either ignored or sent some white papers to read.

Many of you have wondered why I'm so pro-America in my writing, how I can possibly love a nation so flawed in so many fundamental ways. Well, now you know.

America is great because we have freedom of speech. The big reason we're better: they don't execute you for blogging in America. Sometimes your page rank goes down, but it's not quite the same thing.

But -- before you think I'm getting too jingoistic (look it up) -- I need to point out a disturbing trend once again. The American government and American government policy is not trying to censor any of us. But lobbyists are. Special interests are. The companies we buy our tunes and flicks from are trying to censor us, and they don't care how far they have to go to shut down our cherished free speech.

Think about that the next time a SOPA or a PIPA comes up as a bill. Is censoring us more like America or more like Iran?

See also: Chris Dodd and the MPAA: bribery or politics as usual?

I'm proud to be an American, but I'm not exactly thrilled with our lobbyists.

Topics: Government US, Banking, Browser, CXO, Software Development


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Though it is true that the government does not execute for blogging

    does ZDNet adhere to those same standards if your page rank drops? I have noticed that some ZDNet bloggers from early on have disappeared, never to be heard from again on ZDNet.

    Tim Cook
    • RE: Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

      @Mister Spock Maybe they were boring, or irrelevant?
      • RE: Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran


        Probably because they stuck to the "facts" instead of fanning the flames of controversy. I mean seriously, who wants facts when you can have fun with fanbois? ;-)
      • RE: Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

        @thetwonkey, I apologize.
        It appears that the complexities of human pranks still escape me, as I was sure people would have understood what I was attempting to say.

        Tim Cook
    • Not only "America" (and perhaps ZD) have free speech...

      @Mister Spock Nah- I'm still here; I just created a new ID. <br>ZDNET can't keep ME down!<br>But I'll take this more seriously when ZD starts pulling fingernails. Or America starts waterboarding.<br>Oh. Wait...<br><br>(Sorry- Can't tell you my old ID! Wouldn't want the ZD Ayahtoldyas to find out!)
      Claude Balloune
  • RE: Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

    If only Boring or Irrelevant applied to the politicians.
    Silent Observer
  • Let's put David on the spot

    If you came across classified information that showed the United States had violated the Constitution and several laws derived from it, resulting in deaths and lingering injuries to hundreds of citizens, and related and responsible offices of the Inspector Generals, and the Department of Justice refused to take action or allow you to do so; would you violate the NDA to publicly expose these crimes?
    • RE: Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

      @Dr_Zinj If information came from a confidential or sensitive source that I was entrusted with by the government, I would not expose it. Period. I take oaths very seriously.

      Now, as I did with the White House email case, when I found risks through external information sources, I did cover it extensively, and, in fact, that coverage is what led to some of the improvements in how the White House manages its data now.
      David Gewirtz
      • Your oath requires you to keep criminal acts secret?

        @David Gewirtz ... That's some oath! I thought the concept of a whistleblower who discloses criminal activity was a protected status, and that the importance of stopping crime and criminals took precedence over maintaining secret oaths.

        Why if that's not the case, then criminals in government can engage in ongoing widespread crime and shield themselves by improperly classifying all activities related to it.

        You heard it here folks: what matters is allegiance to oaths, not allegiance to obeying the law.
      • To quote the one and only George Smiley

        @David Gewirtz ... (In my opinion, loyalty to an oath over loyalty to the law is fanaticism)

        George Smiley: [on Karla] "He's a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt."
      • RE: Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

        @David Gewirtz

        Yeah...about oaths! That's what the German High Command said after they were defeated in the 2nd World War. Allegiance to an oath is one thing. But a blind allegiance to anything (including oaths) can be very dangerous.
      • Crystalsoldier, you're referrig to this oath

        @David Gewirtz ... "Ich schw??re bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid, da?? ich dem F??hrer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes Adolf Hitler, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht, unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will, jederzeit f??r diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen."

        in English

        "I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath."

        The question I like to ask is, if you were bound by the above oath and you by virtue of your access to 'classified information' found out the true nature of the regime, where does your higher loyalty lie, to your oath or to mankind to make it known?

        If you say that your higher loyalty is to mankind, then you've just signed on to the principle that sometimes leaking is justified.

        All that remains is for us to haggle the price.
      • I mean 'haggle the price' figuratively, not literally

        @David Gewirtz ... if one is asking a literal 'price' for information or disclosing it exclusively to the enemy or something, that's plainly espionage. Revealing information to the world, for free, to try to right a clear wrong is something else.
    • I wouldn't publish it...

      @Dr_Zinj <br>...but I would go to a member of Congress I trusted (probably a member of the opposition, but not necessarily).<br><br>Reply to HollywoodDog:<br><br>Definitely not Gravel. I was thinking of someone who did have a clearance, could be trusted to keep the secret and not abuse it, but see to it that any malfeasance was properly investigated. Back when I was actually applying for jobs that might require clearances, I had in mind a couple of people, one was a Democrat, the other a Republican, both serving on appropriate committees, and both with reputations for discretion and integrity (and I won't name either one). In any event, such an action would be a last resort.<br><br>BTW: Mr. Gravel was a Senator.
      John L. Ries
      • That's what Daniel Ellsberg did - with Congressman Mike Gravel

        @John L. Ries ... then Gravel held a hearing of the committee he chairs late at night, where he was the only one present. When he was all alone, he took the entirety of the Pentagon Papers and (without objection) entered them in the Congressional Record. Presto - public domain.

        Obama offered the lame excuse for his prosecution of Manning that the difference between Ellsberg (widely now considered a hero) and Manning is that the document were classified at a different level of classification.

        True, but backwards. Everything Ellsberg disclosed was Top Secret. Nothing Manning disclosed was Top Secret.
    • I don't think this is the type of information he is addressing.


      "Seriously? David said they would send him white papers for him to read. This was in any of those instances where the "Official Office" of his particular misconducted for mocking their policies would be made more relevant. In which case would disclose at times sensitive information otherwise unknown to a journalist."
  • Are you any relation to the David Gewirtz who wrote this?

    U.S. wins Twitter battle against foreign WikiLeaks collaborator

    By David Gewirtz | November 12, 2011, 5:14pm PST

    Summary: Let this be a warning to other foreign agents who want to cause harm to the U.S. Don???t.


    Sometimes people amuse me. Take, for example, the case of Birgitta Jonsdottir. She???s the former WikiLeaks collaborator who???s crying foul because a U.S. court upheld the United States??? right to protect itself against her attacks.

    This is no simple case of privacy, no matter what the foreign press would have you believe.

    Jonsdottir is an MP, a member of the Icelandic parliament. That???s roughly analogous to being a member of Congress here in the U.S. She???s also a WikiLeaks collaborator, having last year enabled the trafficking of a top-secret U.S. government video through WikiLeaks.

    Now, in a probe into her actions against U.S. interests, Jonsdottir???s communications via Twitter are being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. This week, a U.S. court granted DOJ access to her Twitter traffic, which Twitter is, quite properly, complying with.

    Despite the cries of despair from deluded privacy advocates being duped by foreign governments, this is not a violation of social networking privacy. Instead, it???s a government protecting itself from the nearly espionage-level actions of a member (a governing member!) of a foreign nation.

    - HollywoodDog - 'deluded privacy activist'
    • Bonus question

      @HollywoodDog ... The New York Times published all the same documents that Wikileaks did. Does every Wall Street banker walking down the street with a copy of the Times under his arm qualify as an espionage agent of a foreign government? Or just foreigners with funny names?
  • Isn't Wikileaks a ... wait for it ... a blog?

    Should America tolerate Wikileaks or destroy it like any other national security threat?

    By David Gewirtz | August 3, 2010, 7:27am PDT


    I have to agree with Thiessen. If Wikileaks can???t manage itself and can???t control whether it???s releasing dangerous information, then it needs to be controlled. In any instance where our national security is at risk, America needs to take action.
    • "Dangerous information"

      @HollywoodDog ... that is a very interesting application of the English language.

      It could actually be applied to some things; surely the first amendment doesn't cover handing the recipe for atomic bombs to Al Queda. But embassy cables, which are not even classified Top Secret?