In the great George Orwell novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the Ministry of Truth is a vast bureaucracy that ironically exists to falsify historical events in the service of political ideology. Its headquarters is an 80-story building of 3,000 rooms, and its outside walls bear the words “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.”
The cautionary tale should be read again to judge the significance of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent prosecution of the country’s largest Internet companies for engaging in the allegedly deceptive practice of failing to abide by their own privacy policies.
To put this in perspective, consider the battles that the traditional press fought under the flag of the First Amendment. The press established that all prior restraints are presumptively unconstitutional. It prevailed in arguing that public officials rarely can use libel laws to publish comments of public concern. It quashed subpoenas that sought their work product and forced the government to open its doors to public scrutiny.