Free Minds & Free Markets

In a State of Emergency, the President Can Control Your Phone, TV, and Even Your Light Switches: New at Reason

Under a little-known regulation that dates back to the 1930s, the president has legal power over electronic transmissions.

World History Archive/NewscomWorld History Archive/NewscomDecember 11, 1941, is not nearly as memorable a date as the one that lives in infamy. But that Thursday after Pearl Harbor is still an important moment in American history, because it's the day that Germany declared war on the United States and the U.S. immediately reciprocated. And it was on that date that President Franklin Roosevelt told his press secretary, Stephen T. Early, that the government should take over one of the national broadcast networks.

Early informed James L. Fly, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and director of the newly created Defense Communications Board (DCB), that Roosevelt had personally directed Fly to acquire a national broadcast network for the government. Both the FCC and the DCB were empowered by Section 606 of the 1934 Communications Act, which expressly gave the president full control over electronic transmissions in case of war or a national emergency.

Section 606 remains in effect today, and now that President Donald Trump is declaring yet another national emergency, it's important to reconsider it, writes Michael Socolow for Reason.

Photo Credit: World History Archive/Newscom


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online