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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Eroding Privilege of Privacy

I believe there is a role for government, e.g. correcting market failures, ensuring basic equity, enforcing laws, providing defense, and equalizing opportunity. Some government is unavoidable. But as much as possible government should stay the hell away. I don't like the recent intrusive trends, and the Obama administration has been a disappointment on this issue:

Free to Search and Seize, by David Shipler, Commentary, NY Times: This spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.
In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime.
None of these are landmark decisions. But together they further erode the privilege of privacy that was championed by Congress and the courts in the mid-to-late-20th century...
American history is replete with assaults on liberties that first target foreigners, minorities and those on the political margins, then spread toward the mainstream. The 1917 Espionage Act, for example, was used to prosecute American labor leaders and other critics of the government, and the 1798 Alien Enemies Act was revived after Pearl Harbor to intern American citizens of Japanese ancestry. A similar process is taking place now, as the F.B.I. has begun using counterterrorism tools to search, infiltrate and investigate groups of American peace activists and labor leaders in the Midwest.
The Fourth Amendment is weaker than it was 50 years ago, and this should worry everyone. “Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government,” Justice Robert H. Jackson, the former chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, wrote in 1949. “Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.”

    Posted by on Friday, June 24, 2011 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Market Failure | Permalink  Comments (17)

          


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