The Wireless Age, October, 1914, pages 8-10:
The Censorship Situation
THAT the United States Navy Department has exceeded its authority in assuming control of the station of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America at Siaconsett is the assertion made by John W. Griggs, president of the company, in a letter sent to the Secretary of the Navy. He says that the supervision of wireless companies is invested in the Department of Commerce and declares that the Marconi Company "cannot recognize any authority in your department to make demands, give orders, impose censors or to stop our business."
Mr. Griggs' letter followed the attitude of the government after a marconigram had been sent from the British cruiser Suffolk to a private person in New York, asking for supplies and newspapers. In the marconigram, which was sent on September 2, he was advised to be off Sandy Hook, two miles south of the Ambrose Channel Lighthouse, with supplies and newspapers the following morning at eleven o'clock. The censor detailed at the Siaconsett station by the Navy Department transmitted the marconigram to Washington, and as a result the government threatened to close up the Siaconsett station.
Edward J. Nally, Vice-President and General Manager of the Marconi Company, made the following statement concerning the matter:
"The Secretary of the Navy, having complained that our Siaconsett station forwarded to a New York address a wireless message received from the British cruiser Suffolk ordering provisions and newspapers, asked for an explanation of our having done so and threatened, failing a satisfactory explanation, to close the station. The matter being referred to John W. Griggs, the president of the company, and also its general counsel, he addressed the accompanying letter to the Secretary of the Navy":
Mr. Griggs' letter which is dated September 9, follows:
"To the Honorable, The Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.:
"We have previously acknowledged the receipt of your telegram of September 2, relating to the receipt at the Siasconsett station of this company of a message from the British cruiser Suffolk and the forwarding of the same by telegraph to New York City. We now beg to submit the following observations, relative to the subject and to the purport of your message:
"The message from the Suffolk was received at a duly licensed station of this company in the ordinary course of business. Under the provisions of the Berlin Conference of 1906 and the International Radio Telegraphic Convention of London in 1912, it thereupon became the duty of this company to forward the message by the nearest land line to its destination, which was done. There was nothing in the character of the message or the circumstances under which it was received to take it outside of the ordinary provisions of the law of this country.
"We beg to differ with you in your opinion that the message in question was entirely unneutral. We are advised that it was not in violation of any law of neutrality.
"This company has been anxious, so far as its legal obligations permit, to conform to the expressed desires of this government to observe in the strictest manner all the obligations of neutrality with respect to the countries now engaged in war. We would have been willing to abate in some degree our strict legal right in order to meet the wishes of the government, had its action in connection with the subject been such as to allow us with safety to do so. You will recall that at the time your Department placed in our stations agents to act as censors, we asked you to point out the provision of statute law, or treaty, or the rule of international law, which justified this action. The information thus requested has not been furnished. We find our rule of conduct in the premises laid down by the Berlin Convention of 1906 and the London Convention of 1912, and by the statutes of the United States regulating radio telegraphy.
"The Act of Congress of August 13, 1912, confers upon the Department of Commerce certain supervisory powers over radio communication, but we know of no statute which confers any such power or authority on the Navy Department. The assumption by the Navy Department of authority to intervene seems to be unjustified by any law and to be practically a usurpation of the power of another Department of the government. This company has always submitted with ready willingness to the lawful supervision of the agents of the Department of Commerce and will still do so, but it cannot recognize any authority in your Department to make demands, give orders, impose censors or to stop our business. It is manifest that the claim of the agents that you have installed in our stations to decide questions of international law and to determine what messages are unneutral is unjustified. The fact that other nations are engaged in war has not changed the law of the land in this country. We are still governed by civil law and not subject to arbitrary military dictation.
"With reference to your threat to close our station we have to suggest that, in the first place you have no right or power to do it. It can be closed only by action of the Department of Commerce in revoking our license, which can be done only for cause and no cause exists. In the second place, the result of carrying out such a threat on your part would be of immensely more injury to the public than it would be to this company, in cutting off one of the coastal stations constantly used by ships at sea and liable to be needed to answer calls of distress.
"We beg also to call your attention to a provision of the Act of Congress of 1912, as follows:
" 'No person or persons engaged in or having knowledge of the operation of any station or stations shall divulge or publish the contents of any message transmitted or received by such station, except to the person or persons to whom the same may be directed, or their authorized agents, or to another station employed to forward such message to its destination, unless legally required so to do by the (a) court of competent jurisdiction or other competent authority. Any person guilty of divulging or publishing any message, except as herein provided, shall on conviction thereof be punishable,' etc.
"In our view, your Department does not fulfill the meaning of the term 'other competent authority' as used in this statute and the demands of your Department that we shall submit all messages to your agents is a demand that we shall as to every message subject ourselves to indictment and punishment for a violation of this statute.
"We may observe also that the action of your censor in transmitting copy of this message to the Department at Washington is a violation of this statute.
"If you differ with us as to the law of the case or any of the views here in expressed, relating to our rights in the premises, we shall welcome any legal action that will decide which of us is correct. We hold ourselves ready and willing to take up with the Department of Commerce, which has jurisdiction of the subject in so far as any Department has been given jurisdiction, any matters relating to this subject, and express our willingness, as far as the law will permit us, to conform to the wishes of the government in observing in the strictest form the laws of neutrality.
"Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, by John W. Griggs, President."
A newspaper dispatch from Washington dated September 3 says:
President Wilson announced to-day that he and Secretary Bryan had agreed on a memorandum for the settlement of censorship at wireless stations.
Secretary Bryan later announced that the question of the use of wireless by European belligerent powers had been settled by an arrangement through which all of the powers would be permitted to send and receive messages in code or cipher.
Secretary Bryan in a statement says:
"Hereafter all belligerents may send and receive wireless messages in code or cipher.
"The American censors at the stations will be furnished with copies of code and cipher books, so as to be in a position to determine that the neutrality of the United States is not violated. The code and cipher books, as well as the messages sent, are to remain known only to the official censors and to the United States Government.
"The Navy Department will prepare the regulations under which this decision of the United States Government will be carried out."