Brooklyn satellite operator could trigger First Amendment battle

The recent arrest of a Brooklyn satellite operator for providing Americans with access to Hezbollah TV signals is the first time an individual has been charged for distributing broadcast information under U.S. anti-terrorism law. Experts say it could presage a legal test of First Amendment rights under the Constitution.

The International Emergency Economic Powers Act is typically used to prohibit Americans from contributing funds to terrorist groups and to block importation of goods and services that aid such organizations.

However, after changes by the controversial PATRIOT Act, the law was broadened to include a wider range of violations, including — according to prosecutors — the offering of TV signals transmitted by organizations the U.S. government labels as terrorists. In this case, the organization is a Hezbollah TV station, al-Manar.

Javed Iqbal, a Pakistani who has been in the country for more than 20 years, was charged with the satellite distribution of the al-Manar signal. His bond was set at $250,000. It was the first use of the law to block the transmission of information.

Civil libertarians and some constitutional scholars expressed concern about the case. “One person's news is another's propaganda,” Rod Smolla, the dean of the University of Richmond Law School and a First Amendment expert, told “The New York Times.” “It runs counter to all of our First Amendment traditions to ban the free flow of news and information across borders...”

Government officials had no comment about the case at this time.