Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Another brick in the wall, Part III
Written by: Beck

At what point am I supposed to begin to worry?

You see, the libertarian part of me automatically twitches at anything allowing the state to increase control over its citizens. One of the best ways to impose control is to strip away privacy. After all, if the state always knows where you are and what you're doing, you can't possibly be doing anything bad. The simple knowledge that there's no hope of getting away with a crime is sufficient to deter the vast majority of society from committing crime.

Unfortunately, privacy activists have far too much in common with the tin-foil hat brigade for many people--myself included--to feel entirely comfortable with them. Furthermore, in many cases (the Patriot Act anyone?), things which privacy advocates consider offensive or intrusive are indeed nothing about which law-abiding citizens need to worry. It is undeniably true that there are circumstances in which complete access to personal/private information allows government officials to save lives. It's a mistake to attempt to restrict law enforcement's ability to act in such situations. It's foolish to wait for police to wake up a judge for a phone tap authorization or a search warrant when you know perfectly well that the judge is going to sign off on anything police officers put under his nose anyway.

So why worry? Why concern oneself with where the proverbial line is drawn?

Why should stories like this cause such a visceral reaction? Why should it cause a lingering sense of worry when I hear that Japan has begun tracking school children with RFID tags?

I know that part of the reason is because there is an extent to which I am not a law abiding citizen. I like to drive fast, and I have the common sense to realize that speed limits are arbitrary and artificially low (I linked once to a study showing that fewer traffic accidents happen if people are allowed to drive more "naturally" at whatever speed they feel comfortable with, but I can't for the life of me find the link). However, I also have the common sense to realize that no amount of argument, lobbying, or voting in Houston City Council elections is going to change the law. Instead, I defy the law. I drive at speeds I consider appropriate and within my abilities as a driver, and I accept the occasional speeding ticket as a special tax on people who don't like spending their lives blindly obeying the traffic code.

It would be relatively easy and inexpensive to attach a device to my car which monitors my speed, calls up the police whenever I speed, and has a ticket faxed to my home for convenient handling. It's funny when wall mounted machines print out citations for swearing in Demolition Man, but there's no reason why that couldn't become a reality. To any who object saying that the implementation costs would be prohibitive, I'd like to point out to you that we live in a world where the government thinks nothing of spending half a trillion dollars to buy off the senior citizens lobby (largely unsuccessfully I might add). Besides, citations for trivial law breaking have always been about raising money rather than about citizens' safety.

The other great concern is for things which are currently legal which might later be outlawed. The classic example is gun control laws. The extent to which I'm a law abiding citizen and wish to help the government in fighting terrorism & other crimes, I have no problem with the government knowing about how many guns I own. If I felt that I could trust the government to never outlaw gun ownership, I could almost support such weapon cataloging (I wouldn't, in the end, but I wouldn't worry nearly so much about it either). Unfortunately, no one in their right mind trusts the government not to succumb to liberal/European anti-gun sentiment. As such, it's a legitimate concern of any gun owner that the government might try to take them away. If a law in Australia can result in confiscation of swords, then the US government can declare handguns illegal and confiscate them. In anticipation of further inadvertent law breaking, once again, the privacy advocate has no choice but to oppose government invasiveness, even though that invasiveness is for a "good cause."

In a world where you far too often find yourself in powerless opposition to irrationally conceived and inconsistently applied laws, the only viable options are conformance or defiance. For those inclined to defy, success is measured in small doses. Simply getting away with defiance represents a small victory over the state. As such, protecting privacy is of major importance to those who feel that the state is not their friend.

(Hat tip: Hit & Run)

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