How do the U.S. presidential candidates measure up when it comes to freedom of expression issues, largely sidelined in recent debates? Here, we've collected what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have said and done on some of the key themes, from their stances on WikiLeaks to online privacy.
Based on their free expression track records, who would you vote for? Let us know in the online poll below.
Willard "Mitt" Romney
Barack H. Obama
"The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive, far too threatening to freedom of speech and movement of information across the Internet," Romney said after the blackout, expressing his opposition to both SOPA and PIPA.
But neither Romney nor his party have opposed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) – also known as "SOPA light" – an international pact between numerous industrialised countries to combat piracy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says the legislation requires web hosts to "police" those who post on their domains. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears the legislation could be used to invade privacy and track dissidents, as well as go after Internet websites that allow anonymous free speech in the face of government crackdowns.
In a high-profile case, the Obama administration is seeking the extradition to the U.S. of 24-year-old British citizen Richard O'Dwyer, whose website TVshack.net allegedly linked to sites that streamed pirated shows. O'Dwyer's supporters, including Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, say prosecuting someone who essentially hosts a search engine sets a dangerous precedent. O'Dwyer faces up to 10 years in jail.
In late 2011, Obama endorsed ACTA but the U.S. has yet to ratify the treaty.
Another time, when accused of only caring about the 1 percent, Romney accused protesters of "trying to divide the nation," and exclaimed "America's right, and you're wrong!"
Despite Romney's off-hand dismissal, the Occupy protests have exposed the tenuous nature of the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), more than 80 journalists in various cities suffered police violence while covering Occupy protests.
While Obama still hasn't publicly condemned police brutality during peaceful protests, he did instruct law enforcement to refrain from arresting Occupy protesters camped on federal property in Oakland, California. According to emails released this August, the White House said police should only intervene if there is a threat to public safety.
The statement rejected "efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," referring to the video, in an effort to cool tensions in the area.
"It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathise with those who waged the attacks," Romney said.
Romney said the embassy issued "what appeared to be an apology for American principles, 'highlighting' our Constitutional rights of speech, and assembly, and religion."
However, Romney may be less willing to respect the free speech rights of Muslims. In 2006, he tried to block a Harvard public lecture by former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami by ordering state agencies against providing security. Romney accused Khatami, a moderate, of being an extremist and called the visit a "disgrace." Harvard University pressed on with the event, relying on local and federal police, and justified the decision by explaining that good policy is informed by open debate.
Two weeks later, Obama did a U-turn. He vigorously defended free expression in an address to the UN General Assembly, including the right of individuals to "blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs." "The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech," he said on 25 September.
Romney, in step with the party line, has also proposed eliminating another publicly funded media company, National Public Radio (NPR), as well as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), according to CNN. NEA provides grants – and jobs in the process – to visual artists, filmmakers, theatre productions, and more. NEH, meanwhile, supports universities, authors, academics, museums, archives and more.
In 2011, the Obama administration expressed support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which was created by Congress in 1967 and funds local community stations, programmes that cater to America's minorities and other independent television and radio. "CPB serves an important public purpose in supporting public radio, television, and related online and mobile services," the administration said.
Romney has repeatedly dodged questions about Bradley Manning, the soldier who is the alleged source of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables and is now being prosecuted for treason. Romney said he doesn't know the details and doesn't think he should comment on a specific legal case. Manning's supporters say his silence on the issue is an indication he wouldn't intervene to end the U.S. military's political targeting of Manning.
Under Obama's leadership, the U.S. government continues to attempt to extradite Assange to the U.S, where he could face life imprisonment or even, some supporters fear, the death penalty.
In 2011, Obama said Manning, who has been held since June 2010, "broke the law." The statement was made despite the fact that Manning hasn't even faced trial yet. Manning has been held almost entirely in solitary confinement, leading the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to call his treatment "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
Obama's tough stance on security issues is also reflected in the treatment of Ibrahim Jassam, a journalist accused of distributing material about insurgent attacks. He was held for more than 1.5 years without charges, after U.S. military forces finally released him in 2010. CPJ says the U.S. military has held at least 14 journalists on non-existent or trumped-up charges.
Meanwhile, Obama's government has repeatedly used "state secrets" legislation to block court requests to disclose information on illegal wiretapping by the Bush, and possibly in his own, administration, according to news reports.