Critical Infrastructure vs. Free Speech? Protect Both
If this past year has taught us anything, it is that reliable critical infrastructure is essential for the livelihoods of Americans.
Just weeks after the Colonial Pipeline attack, millions of Americans are still grappling with the impacts of the shutdown. Other events, such as the February blackout across Texas and other parts of the U.S., also reveal just how important critical infrastructure is in maintaining our most basic human needs for survival.
Examples of critical infrastructure include power stations, water treatment facilities, natural gas storage facilities, transmission lines, telecommunications wires and structures, and others. These infrastructure facilities are depended upon by millions of people for virtually every aspect of their lives.
Nevertheless, these types of facilities tend to be targets of vandalism and sabotage.
As we detailed back in 2018:
Last year, vandals set fire to machinery and a structure that were part of the Dakota Access Pipeline causing an estimated $140,000 in damages. The Crow Tribe in Montana had its municipal water service disrupted for months when vandals damaged the tribe’s water treatment facility. Then, there’s the group of people known as Valve Turners that coordinated trespassing, cutting padlocks and closing safety valves to stop an oil pipeline from flowing.
This was the impetus behind Critical Infrastructure Protection legislation that swept through the states back in 2017. Later that year, members of the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force approved their own version as model policy, based on language from existing Oklahoma legislation. The goal of this type of legislation was to hold trespassers accountable for any and all damage caused to these types of critical infrastructure facilities, in hopes that this would prevent any inevitable ripple effects from reaching millions of Americans. This legislation was created to protect our citizens and the infrastructure they depend on every day.
Now, new threats to critical infrastructure have emerged through the increased use of cyber-attacks. Criminal actors can cause damage to these facilities from any physical location across the globe. Innovative policy solutions will be required to better protect our infrastructure moving forward, and ALEC state legislators will be on the forefront of these state-based discussions.
However, some high profile media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times have recently leveled false claims against ALEC, accusing our organization of engaging in a nefarious plan to infringe upon the right to free speech through the promotion of critical infrastructure protection legislation. This could not be further from the truth.
ALEC has long been a leader in promoting and protecting free speech. Through our Center to Protect Free Speech, ALEC has consistently led the charge in ensuring this First Amendment right is protected under the law. This includes the essential right of Americans to peacefully protest.
But as we’ve also seen this past year, protests can and do turn violent. And when they do, our critical infrastructure facilities must be protected. American lives depend on it.
Without reliable critical infrastructure or the freedom of speech, the American way of life will cease to exist. All Americans deserve to have their voices heard and their basic needs met. Protecting critical infrastructure and protecting free speech go hand in hand.