The first amendment has always been a hotbed for controversy, especially in recent times. The six Espionage Act indictments during the Obama Administration are a testimony of such controversy. Free speech is tremendously gracious right and a beautiful cornerstone of America and it is being exploited by corporations.
The New Republic published a piece called “The Right to Evade: How Corporations Hijacked the First Amendment,” by Columbia law professor Tim Wu. The article focuses on the exploitation and manipulation of free speech by major corporations to solely benefit their greed. One key instance is that of information mining company IMS Health.
IMS Health bought information from pharmacies, records consisting of patients, doctors, and prescription types. IMS sold this information to the pharmaceutical giants so they could “target (and reward) the physicians most likely to prescribe expensive, brand-name drugs.” This only enables the drug companies to pay kickbacks to these doctors to prescribe their drugs to increase their profits.
By 2010, 29 states had outlawed the practice of pharmacies selling patient and doctor information. IMS filed against New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont citing that the sanctions violated first amendment rights: “the selling of prescription records, the company asserted, is a form of free speech.”
The following year, because the Supreme Court felt that it “discriminated against IMS health,” struck down newly proposed data-protection laws that were set to deter the buying and selling of such information like pharmaceutical records.
Corporations have even been hiding behind the first amendment to justify unethical and illegal practices.
The American Petroleum Institute fought against an anti-bribery clause in the Dodd-Frank financial reform of 2010. According to the article, “the law mandates the full disclosure of corporate payments made to foreign governments.” The oil companies, thankfully, didn’t succeed in trying to change the Dodd-Frank provision. But they did go on to say the provision “forces U.S. public companies to engage in speech that they do not wish to make.”
Verizon also quailed behind the first amendment when they were exposed for spying on their own customers under the behest of the National Security Agency. When Congress accused the mobile phone company of “illegal surveillance,” Verizon said their actions were protected speech. No matter how anyone can look at it, its the consumer who gets the raw end of the deal, monetarily or ethically. Either these companies are fully aware of the effects these actions have on consumers and don’t care, or they are just that out of touch.
Free speech is a right that is bestowed upon every individual American. Now, the corporations are mistreating it, using it as a copout to bolster their agenda.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.