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Sexist, racist comments on police message board cause political flap

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Message board censorship
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 18:55:04 -0500
From: Paul Levy <plevy@citizen.org>
To: <declan@well.com>

There has been a brewing controversy here in the DC area about Internet 
anonymity and message board censorship, fomented by the Washington Post. 
  Last week, the Post broke the story that some of the messages posted 
by police officers in Montgomery County, participating on a message 
board under the aegis of the local of the Fraternal Order of Police that 
represents police officers, were racist or sexist.

Copies of postings on the password-protected site were furnished to the 
Post which reprinted several of them.   Hello-o-o-o, yes, individual 
cops can be just as obnoxious as any one else.

The next day, the police chief was reported as demanding that the 
message board be shut down, and the union fought back, insisting that 
the bnoard provided a useful forum for the expression of member opinion, 
and besides, isn't it better to KNOW what people are thinking by 
allowing them to express their opinions?  And one county board member 
was quoted as saying, "Chief Manger must take immediate action to remove 
any police officer who hides behind the anonymity of the Internet to 
attack the immigrants, the minorities and women they are hired to 
protect."  The local NAACP joined the call for disciplining any police 
office found to have said offensive things anonymously.

Then, earlier this week, it was announced that Montgomery County had 
blocked its officers' access to the bulletin board from their work 
computers "because of the destructive effects these anonymous postings 
have had." 

Then, in today's story, more messages are reprinted from the message 
board, incuding officers' reaction to the controversy.  We hear that 
public officials are threatening that unless the police union does 
something about the bulletin board, there will be repercussions in 
collective bargaining ths fall. 
  So, the union is caving into the pressure, agreeing to monitor the 
bulletin board and remove statements deemed offensive, as well as "block 
access to members who post racist, sexist or other inappropriate 
remarks."  The union's president "also will outline the types of 
messages that will not be allowed on the board.  "We're drawing a line 
at any racist, bigoted, sexist or inappropriate comment," [the union's 
lawyer said."

Not clear how many censors they will have working on the bowdlerization 
project, or what standards will be applied to decide what gets censored.

Or course, like any other private group, the union has the right to 
decide what lines to draw about what gets said on its own message board. 
  And, assuming that this local represents ONLY public employees union, 
the FOP is free from the "free speech" requirements of the Labor 
Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.  But the use of public funds 
(or the threat of withholding raises) to threaten the union unless it 
engages in censorship is troubling indeed.  And you would think a 
newspaper might know better than to campaign for cutbacks in  speech rights.

Paul Alan Levy
Public Citizen Litigation Group
1600 - 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 588-1000

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Mar 31, 2006 in category free-speech

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