When Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced the Bill of Rights in Congress, including the First Amendment, on June 8, 1789, he didn’t fathom that in 200-plus years that we would be using seemingly magic boxes to exercise our right to free speech. In those days, a letter would often take weeks to reach their destination. Presidential election results were often painstakingly slow. Voters would learn of their results, but often weeks later, because of the time it took for letters, newspapers, and other periodicals to be sent.
A few decades later came the railroad. Now letters would only require days instead of weeks to be sent.
In the 1840s, the telegraph was developed by Samuel Morse et al. What took weeks would now require minutes. The sender and receiver, however, would still have to go to the telegraph office to send or receive telegrams. The telegrams would often be delivered by local mail (a day’s journey instead of a few weeks at that). The Pony Express was tried in 1860, but it succumbed to the telegraph. Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election win was announced to a rather divided country by telegraph.
In the 1870s came the telephone. In the following decades, the telephone would prove instrumental in many world and national events. It was key in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. It would be involved in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries have brought us radio, television, and the Internet. When the country was attacked by the Japanese military on December 7, 1941, the events were brought to us by film and radio. President Franklin D. Roosevelt comforted the nation by his many fireside chats. The American public would witness President Kennedy’s murder and subsequent funeral, Space Shuttle Challenger’s destruction on CNN, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Through the years, many bills addressing technologies have made their way through Congress, and some even were signed by the President. One of which was the Communications Decency Act of 1997. The CDA, for the most part, was struck down by the United States Supreme Court in 1999 as unconstitutional.
Another bill making its way through is the Email Privacy Act, sponsored by Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder. It addresses shortcomings of the Telecommunications Act of 1986. This bill concerns about search and seizure of electronic communications without a warrant.
Thus, all during this time, our liberties have been steadfast, no matter the technological advances being made. We as Americans have to be mindful of this now and in the years to come.