Puerto Rico Decides The 1st Amendment Doesn't Apply To Its Citizens; Criminalizes 'Fake News'

from the bad-PR-for-PR dept

Puerto Rico is a US territory and its citizens have been citizens of the United States since 1917. A little more than one hundred years later, the local government has decided the rights granted to Puerto Ricans by the US Constitution aren't really rights -- not in the middle of a pandemic.

The government is already receiving criticism (and at least one lawsuit) for its COVID-related crackdowns, which include quarantine and curfew orders that appear to violate Constitutional rights. Now, the government has added onto its Public Security law to criminalize certain kinds of speech. Here's the Committee to Protect Journalists on the island's "fake news" law. (h/t Sarah McLaughlin)

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez signed an amendment to the island’s Public Security law on April 6 making it illegal for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information” relating to government proclamations or executive orders concerning COVID-19 or other disasters, according to the order and news reports.

The government will apparently be the final arbiter on the truthiness of transmitted information. The law's wording covers a lot of ground -- and a lot of protected speech.

[I]t makes it illegal for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information with the intention of creating confusion, panic, or public hysteria, with regards to any proclamation or executive order declaring an emergency, disaster or curfew.”

Yeah, that could cover a lot of things. Causing confusion is almost a given, even in official government proclamations. If someone's "fake news" mamanges to cause more than $10,000 in damage to "public-sector finances" (pretty easy to do at government rates) or leads to the "damage or injury of physical property," the previously-protected speech will be considered a fourth-degree criminal offense. That makes it a low-level felony, punishable by six months in jail and fines of up to $5,000.

As the CPJ notes, this doesn't just violate the Constitution, it makes it more difficult for journalists to cover the pandemic as it unfolds. A lack of solid information isn't the same thing as misinformation, but criminalizing speech the government feels is inaccurate (and costs money to respond to) is only going to result in less information being spread. "Fake news" laws tend to do collateral damage to non-fake news reporting as reporters in the middle of unfolding events opt to self-censor, rather than run the risk of being prosecuted. This won't withstand a Constitutional challenge, but until the law is blocked, everyone in Puerto Rico will have to make do with a little less First Amendment.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, fake news, free speech, puerto rico


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  • icon
    Seanon (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 11:09am

    Banned

    So are the president's press conferences now banned in Puerto Rico

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 11:24am

      Re: Banned

      Came here to see this, was not disappointed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 1:53pm

      Re: Banned

      I wonder if that action is enough to get Trump interested in what is happening in Puerto Rico again? Like hurricane relief for example. I can see where being publicly ignored by a government that is at least quasi under his umbrella would piss him off.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:00pm

        Re: Re: Banned

        Yeah, he should definitely go to Puerto Rico and throw some more paper towels at them. I'm sure that is what the people of Puerto Rico really want.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:20pm

        Re: Re: Banned

        I wonder if that action is enough to get Trump interested in what is happening in Puerto Rico again?

        I think that would require him to get interested in what's happening in Puerto Rico in the first place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:06pm

      Re: Banned

      Or not, because why should Trump's behavior meet any reasonable definition of "news"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 11:38am

    A lack of solid information isn't the same thing as misinformation, but criminalizing speech the government feels is inaccurate (and costs money to respond to) is only going to result in less information being spread.

    “The less information they have, the better.” — politicians, probably

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 11:38am

    Is TechDirt read in Puerto Rico?

    Wanda Vázquez has been accused of child molestation and there are reports that her computer contains many gigs of child pornographic content. She is also frequently spotted violating the curfew and mingling with others in close quarters without wearing PPE.

    Fake news? You be the judge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 12:00pm

      Who is the source for these claims? What evidence does the source have that backs up the claims? How and when did that evidence come into their possession? Why did they reveal the existence of this evidence to the media?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Juvenile Delinquents, 15 Apr 2020 @ 12:09pm

      References? We dont need no stinkin references

      We ask the "questions",
      you decide.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 12:04pm

    'Pointing out the emperor is naked? To jail with you.'

    [I]t makes it illegal for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information with the intention of creating confusion, panic, or public hysteria, with regards to any proclamation or executive order declaring an emergency, disaster or curfew.”

    Usually you'd have to go to an active minefield to see that many traps...

    'False information'... in the age of 'fake news' accusations thrown out against anything that the accuser doesn't like this is probably the easiest trap to spot.

    'Transmit or allow the transmission of' means that not only do people run the risk of being penalized for saying the 'wrong' things but that platforms also run the risk if they don't crack down and prevent those things, turning them into unwilling government censors.

    'Confusion' I could easily see being applied to any message that contradicts the official narrative/position, as if the government officials say one thing, and you say another, why people are sure to be confused.

    'Panic'/'public hysteria', well, if the government doesn't want the real numbers out there under the argument that people might panic if they knew just how bad things are then simply reporting actual facts would be enough to trigger that one.

    Really, they might as well have saved some typing and simply been honest with people. 'It is henceforth illegal to post, say, or allow the posting of any speech that the government does not like.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 12:10pm

    This sounds like a directive from the president of Puerto Rico.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ian Williams, 15 Apr 2020 @ 12:43pm

    You need to back to the history books, the SCOTUS decided back in 1901 that the Constitution need not apply to US citizens if they were in US Territories. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insular_Cases

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:11pm

      Re:

      That may be, however it does not make it right.

      Former Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice José Trías Monge contends that the Insular Cases were based on premises that would be considered bizarre today, such as:
      . Democracy and colonialism are "fully compatible".
      . There is "nothing wrong when a democracy such as the United States engages in the business of governing other "subjects that have not participated in their democratic election process.
      . People are not created equal, some races being superior to others.
      . It is the "burden of the superior peoples, the white man's burden, to bring up others in their image, except to the extent that the nation which possesses them should in due time determine".
      criticism

      You see that part about white man's burden?
      The nation that possesses them? Are they slaves?
      wtf is this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Agammamon, 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:55pm

        Re: Re:

        He didn't say it made it right.

        Just that what the law is is what the law is. Right and wrong don't come into it. Never have.

        What 'rights' the 'citizens' of the US from the territories and possessions have varies from territory and possession. The US government only recognizes the full panoply of rights only for the citizens from the 50 states. Even DC residents have fewer rights recognized and protected than the people living in VA/MD.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 4:54pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "He didn't say it made it right"
          Where was it claimed that he did?

          "law is is what the law is"
          Sorry, but enforcement of the law is up to the DA, AG. Just because there are words on paper does not mean all offenders will meet justice. The probability of enforcement is inversely proportional to the perps resources.

          "Right and wrong don't come into it. Never have"
          Never came into what? The law? LOL

          "Even DC residents have fewer rights "
          DC, the District of Corruption? Where you can walk down Independence Ave and see millionaires on one side of the street and homeless on the other side.

          Are the people of US territories considered, by law, to be slaves?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 5:06pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Please name the voting representatives from the District of Columbia that are members of Congress.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 4:05am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Why? Is there a point to your question?

              Yes, the little people who happen to reside in the district of corruption are not provided representation like the rest of us citizens. I do not think I denied this fact ... did I - where?
              Considering the history of some of our representatives, I would say that there are many more across the country who are also not being represented in congress, but that is a different story.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 6:15am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              In addition, the us has an aversion to taxation without representation - or at least it used to. Not any more apparently.

              Seems the only people being represented, with few exceptions, are the rich and famous. I guess they let you do that when you are rich and famous.

              /rant

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      If the US Constitution does not apply to US territories, then the fact that all federal statutes are authorized to exist by the Constitution means that federal law cannot apply to US territories either.

      At that point, are they actually a US territory at all anymore?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re:

        If the US Constitution does not apply to US territories,

        It does not apply in full to territories. Basically the parts that allow the US to govern the territories apply, and the parts protecting the rights of the citizens of those territories don't. Convenient, no?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 1:12pm

    Only problem..

    The 1st amendment is wonderful.
    Opinion is OPINION.
    Stupidity is Just STUPID.
    Ignorance, should not stand in the way of idiocy??
    I love people who OPEN mouth, before they LEARN ABOUT THE PROBLEM..

    "transmission” of “false information” relating to government proclamations or executive orders concerning COVID-19 or other disasters, according to the order and news reports."

    Even in our country, isnt it a Problem listening to the TV(not just the news) and have all these people, declare they KNOW what the gov said/did...But didnt READ the proclamation. I finally had to turn off anything on TV. as everyone THINKS they are telling us Right from wrong, but didnt read the document or listen to what was said.
    I love the OUTTAKES of trump, but Lots of people and groups are inserting their Own translation into his words.(and Trump dont know what he is going to do anyway)

    When you tell everyone that "he said this/that/and soforth" is that REALLY an opinion? Opinion is your TRYING to explain what he said..
    But Opinion is SAYING "In My OPINION". Never declare it as fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 15 Apr 2020 @ 2:56pm

      Re: Only problem..

      wat?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 15 Apr 2020 @ 5:29pm

      Re: Only problem..

      Is your capslock key broken?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 1:39pm

        Re: Re: Only problem..

        yep.

        Protected speech is 1 thing. Lies are another.
        But proving a lie, or proving the person is an idiot is HARD to do.
        is that simple enough?

        There WERE laws against political Lies to the public..They got rid of those.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 3:08pm

          Re: Re: Re: Only problem..

          Protected speech is 1 thing. Lies are another.

          Incorrect. Lies are protected speech (unless they fall into narrow categories such as fraud and deceptive advertising). Including lies spoken or written by a politician.

          There WERE laws against political Lies to the public..They got rid of those.

          "They" being the Supreme Court, because the laws infringed on first amendment rights?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 16 Apr 2020 @ 2:54am

    Well, there go the supermarket tabloids.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 5:45am

    Territories, though. What can you do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      Well, you could let go of the last vestiges of Colonial Rule and release those territories to become self-governing nations. Strange thought, I know.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 12:58pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, you could let go of the last vestiges of Colonial Rule and release those territories to become self-governing nations.

        Or accept them as full fledged parts of the US with all the rights that come with that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 16 Apr 2020 @ 6:14am

    the local government has decided the rights granted to Puerto Ricans by the US Constitution aren't really rights

    The US Constitution does not grant rights. It merely recognizes the rights that the authors believed to be intrinsic to people.

    The wording in the Bill of Rights always follows the pattern "the right of <such and such> shall not be infringed". It never says, "the government grants the people the right of <such and such>".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Capt Barbossa, 16 Apr 2020 @ 6:23am

      Re: The code is the law

      First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and you're not. And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 10:27am

    Fake news during a pandemic costs lives. Puerto Rico has the right idea here.

    If I were Puerto Rico, a territory that continually gets treated like shit by the nation that governs it, I would secede and go my own way. The last 4 years have proven that that's honestly the best option since the U.S. is a fucking lost cause, anyways.

    But then if I decided to, let's say, embrace socialism and improve the lives of my citizens, the U.S. would rear its ugly head and attempt a CIA-backed coup on me, just like any other time a country in the Western Hemisphere actually attempted to make the lives of its citizens better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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