April 6, 2007

Reasonable limits on free speech

I have the right under the First Amendment to lobby my Congressman on matters before the House of Representatives. I do not have the right to stand outside his bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. and scream into a bullhorn about an upcoming vote on farm subsidies. While I have the right to petition government for redress of grievances, that right ends when I use it to harass someone in his home.

Indiana’s law banning automated phone calls is not a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech for the same reason. FreeEats.com has the right to free speech up to the point where that right infringes on the privacy of someone in his home.

I’ve made phone calls for the local Republican Party, specifically get-out-the-vote calls. In years past, most of the people I talked to have appreciated the reminder to go vote and were very pleasant. Last year, I noticed there was a lot more hostility on the other end of the line. I attribute this to the deluge of phone calls in this hotly contested Congressional district. In fact, critics of Mike Sodrel were making “killer calls” almost immediately after he took office.

Many people do not understand that political parties are exempt from the no-call list. While there is a cynical element to politicians making sure the law does not cover their campaigns, GOTV efforts serve a valuable purpose in increasing voter turnout. Making phone calls is also an easy way for the average person to get involved in the political process.

Robo-calls, though, are different. You have no option to talk to a supervisor and no way to ask to be taken off the list. As annoying as it is to be locked in “voice jail” when calling a customer service number, it is far worse when the computer calls you. Auto-dialers also present a large opportunity for abuse - what happens if a pornographic web site or phone-sex line decides to use one to advertise their “product”?

Since FreeEats.com attorney John Cooney is such an ardent defender of free speech, perhaps the H-T could publish his home phone number so all of the people who got the robo-calls can exercise their right to free speech and inform Mr. Cooney of their opinion on the matter. After all, the right to free speech is absolute, isn’t it? Isn’t it?