By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
A doctors' group and an organization that advocates for the interest of the inner-city poor have joined forced to sue the Obama administration, charging that its abortive effort to collect criticisms made by those opposed to President Obama's plan to change the U.S. health care system infringed on their First Amendment rights.
In a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education said the White House had attempted to "unlawfully" collect information on protected political speech when it asked Obamacare supporters to report any negative comments about the proposal to a U.S. government email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The specific effort, which was launched on August 4 as part of the White House's "rapid response" Health Insurance Reform Reality Check, was quickly abandoned after members of Congress raised questions about it. Nevertheless, say the two groups filing suit, the information collection effort continues under another name and is part of an "unlawful pattern and practice to collect and maintain information" on the exercise of free speech, which "continues in violation of the Privacy Act and First Amendment even if the Defendants terminate a particular information-collection component due to negative publicity."
"My hate mail started shortly after the White House issued the 'fishy' request," said Kathryn Serkes, AAPS' Director of Policy and Public Affairs. "We were quite visible and vocal before then, so it doesn't seem like a coincidence. Who did they share their data with? With whom might they share it?"
In the suit, the groups are demanding the White House remove all information already collected, and further, be prohibited from collecting any personal data in the future.