Thursday, December 05, 2013


"They represent a real new front in privacy invasion, so people are right to be worried about them."

One of the mistakes a lot of conservatives make when discussing abortion is to mock the concept of there being any right to privacy implied in the US Constitution.  That's a mistake because the idea of privacy is definitely in the Constitution.
For example, the fourth amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Now, this is based on the principle of the right to property, particularly as it has to do with the government searching your home in the context of tariffs and taxation (during colonial times it was common because the colonies were treated as a tax base for the King's government and smuggling was common in the US).
But protection from government intrusion presumes that someone's property is theirs privately and not publicly available.  Having any property at all means that you can do what you wish with it and not be subject to public scrutiny.
In fact, the 3rd amendment's protection against the government from housing forces in private homes supports this concept as well: it is your home and they have no power to force you to share it or open it to others. So the right to privacy is implied strongly in the Constitution.
In fact even if it were not, the 9th amendment states clearly that the US Constitution is not an exhaustive list of all human rights that are possible to be conceived.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
However, what that right to privacy means has been strangely used in recent years.  For example, there is no rational basis whatsoever to conclude that any right to privacy means you can abort a baby.  Having privacy over your own body does not allow you to do whatever you wish to other people, even if they happen to be inside that body.  No human right trumps or surpasses the right to life in another person, ever, under any circumstances.
And recently, the entire concept of your life, your information, your activities, and your property being private to any degree is under assault.  Most of it comes from a source I tend to be very defensive and protective about: law enforcement.  Cops love traffic and security cameras, because they help catch bad guys.  They love the idea of being able to see things happening themselves rather than rely on witnesses.  I do understand the attraction of this, but there are limits.
Its one thing to subpena or request private security cameras, its another to coat the landscape with cameras like some nations do in the name of public safety and traffic control.  People have a reasonable expectation of privacy and to not be filmed unaware, good intentions or not, on public property.
And the principle of privacy is further damaged by the use of drones to spy on citizens, particularly on private property.  Ever since man could get into the air with the first airplane, governments have been using them to look down on events and learn things.  WWI aerial photography gave a much better view of the battlefield than ever before.
But now, the government of the United States wants to use aircraft designed specifically for the purpose of spying on the public.  Over private property.  And if the principle outlined in the 4th amendment means anything, it means that you have to get permission to peek at me.
Then there's email and online activity.  This is done in private as well; in fact all activity that is not explicitly and obviously public should be considered private and protected.  The US government wants to argue that anything you post on the internet is public and free for them to sift through, but the reason we use passwords is to protect and secure our information and transactions.
So what's wrong with all this?  The problem is that the government is violating one right to try to protect another, at least in theory.  In order to fight crime in one way or another, the government is violating the right to privacy. 
And consider this: the founding fathers wrote the 4th amendment the way they did specifically because the British government was doing the same thing.  This identical exact situation is why the 4th amendment came into being.
The British government was not just being cruel and capricious, they had a genuine concern over smuggling and attempts by colonists to avoid paying tariffs and fees on shipping and business.  So they would bust into a house and search it to see if that person had anything undeclared or illegal.
Their motives were fairly pure: you owe taxes and are trying to get around it.  That's a violation of the law.  All the British were trying to do was enforce the law, using the most obvious and easy method.  The problem was that by doing so they were violating the entire concept of privacy and property.  In essence they were terrorizing their subjects in the name of protecting them.
And here we are, back to the same place.  The government, in the name of protecting its citizens, is terrorizing them and violating their privacy and property.  Because government is like a fire: it can be warming and bring light to see by if it is very carefully managed, controlled, and limited.  But it will grow out of control and beyond any useful boundaries if not constantly and consciously limited.  Every single thing a government will do is to expand its power and scope.  Every law passed is necessarily a limitation of the liberty of a nation's people.
And that tendency has to be carefully watched and blocked every single day with every single law, regulation, and decision or we reach the place that last time could only be stopped by armed revolt.  No government does this out of sheer wickedness or brutality, they all are trying to do good.  They are always doing so "to help the children" or to fight terrorism or to combat crime or what ever is the cause of the day. 
Legislators do not set out to destroy liberty or ruin your freedom and privacy.  The intent is always essentially noble: to do what they believe is right and good, at least at some level.  But the result is always the same.  You do with less so we have more.  Government has to be bigger and you have to give way.
This is a frustrating principle for folks on the left.  They think money is limited and finite so that if one becomes rich another becomes poor, which is patently absurd.  But they also think that freedom is infinite so the government can become larger and larger without you losing anything.  The exact opposite of each is true: money is open ended and freedom is a limited and finite reality.  The more powerful and bigger the government gets, the less free we all become.
And while to a certain, limited extent we will give up some small non-critical liberty to gain safety and stability (and indeed greater liberty, for if there was no government at all then only the most powerful and ruthless would be free), that has to be limited to its smallest extent.
So here we are, in the 21st century, watching the very things the founding fathers wrote down and fought for taken away by well meaning people using clever kind-sounding phrases in the name of doing good.  And few examples are more obvious than the 4th amendment.

No comments: