Friday, March 3, 2006

Employee free speech, and a VA nurse being investigated for Sedition

In September 2005 a pair of hurricanes hit New Orleans and the surrounding land. As a result much of New Orleans has effectively been destroyed. The government response to help the people of New Orleans and the surrounding land has been egregiously bad.

Shortly after the hurricane, a VA nurse in Albuquerque wrote a letter to her local newspaper complaining of the bad government response to the hurricane. Immediately afterward she was referred to the FBI and since then has come under investigation by the FBI for "sedition". Sedition being the legal word for advocating the forceful, violent overthrow of the government.

The story is here: V.A. Nurse Accused of Sedition After Publishing Letter Critical of Bush on Katrina, Iraq (as presented on Democracy Now)

The story is astonishing and alarming. The nurse, Laura Berg, acted under belief she was protected by the First Ammendment gaurantee of freedom of speech. In the interview she reiterates her claim of first ammendment gaurantees of freedom of speech.

The government is threatening her with years of jail time, the sentence for "Sedition". But how could her letter to the editor be taken as advocating violent overthrow of the government? This is the U.S. and we have a long history of the right of citizens to criticize their government.

As she says:

LAURA BERG: Amy, I did not sign away my First Amendment rights as a citizen, you know, by choosing to serve in the federal government and choosing to serve veterans and care for people that have been wounded like this, you know. And this letter sounds like something from a totalitarian regime, you know, that we are supposedly going in and share our democracy. This is way out of line. This was way out line. I have a right to speak my opinion. I have a right to say I'm a V.A. nurse. I do not speak for the V.A. I speak as a public citizen....

In my mind the case is open and shut, but for one thing.

Blogging may be hazardous to your job - The Clarion-Ledger

Should your company have a corporate blogging policy?

FOX Sics its Dogs on "Un-American" Professors

The general principle in the articles I've linked is -- employers have the right and ability to restrict the speech of their employees.

How so? For example, what is proprietary information? It's information a corporation wants to keep secret, that gives the corporation competitive advantage, and if an employee is caught revealing proprietary information the employee can very likely be fired for having done so.

That's just one example of many sorts of ways an employer can limit what an employee says.

There have been instances of people being fired for blogging about aspects of their job, even when doing that blogging from home on their own computer onto their own blogging account. For example a teacher with DeVry was fired over comments she blogged about her students. Someone else, who worked in a customer support job, was fired for derogatory comments she wrote on a blog talking about the people who came to her for support were dweebs etc.

The issue with Laura Berg is that her employer is the U.S. government. Specifically, the Veterans Administration. The U.S. government has more options at its disposal for threatening its employees. e.g. trumping up charges of Sedition.

With the tradition of employers being able to control the speech of their employees, what happens when that employer is the U.S. government?

And, I think the bigger question is, why is there such a blanket acceptance of employers controlling the speech of employees? Clearly it represents a huge blanket of suppressed rights to free speech.