Freedom is a funny thing. Too borrow and pervert an aphorism, freedom is like oxygen: most people don’t think about it until it’s missing.
Think of me (and this article) as a canary in a coal mine. I only hope you’ll actually notice — and then do something about it.
In the world of our Founders, freedom was a precious commodity. In retrospect, this is actually odd.
Our Founders, after all, lived in a largely unpopulated world. Around the time the United States came into being, the population of New York was 25,000. Philadelphia was huge at 40,000. Today, small towns like Hanford, California have more than those numbers. Where I maintain my criminal defense law office in Fresno, California, we have approximately half a million people. In 1775, the combined populations of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston and Newport (all port cities) did not equal 100,000.
So you’d think freedom would be an easy thing to come by. If things got too bad somewhere, I’d expect you could pick up with a few of your good friends and go look for somewhere else to start a town. Of course, you might have to contend with “the locals,” by which I mean any Native Americans who may not wish to share space with you.
And yet our Founders became more and more irritated with what, today, would be really minor intrusions into their lives. General warrants allowed the government to pop into a house at any time to search for such things as “contraband” — products you might have forgotten to pay taxes on when you imported them — and most people didn’t care much for that. Thus, they passed a Constitution forbidding general warrants.
Today, if an officer wants to come into your house, there are certain requirements that must be met first:
- He must make sure you’re from a group (e.g., gang members, poor people, non-whites) whose complaints will receive little sympathy from others for illegal governmental intrusions into your home.
- He must be willing to “testi-lie” that you gave consent for him to enter your home, or that you became hostile and attacked him, forcing him to drag you into the house and subdue you, or some other such poppycock. (“Poppycock,” I think, is our Founders polite way of saying “b.s.”)
Notwithstanding the above, the majority of us really do enjoy a form of freedom from unlawful police intrusions. Even me, if I would quit complaining about illegal intrusions into my privacy.
The problem is that I believe so long as I’m not killing someone, beating someone, stealing from someone, or breaking some other basic and important law, I should not even have to submit to minimal intrusions. The nation I was born into mostly believed that, too. It used to be that until someone committed a crime, the police pretty much ignored them.
My, how times have changed.
Maybe today’s police officers are more often pulled from the ranks of ADHD-afflicted persons (though I’m glad they missed me on that one!), because when things are slow, or they’re bored, or if they just decide they don’t like something about you, you’re going to find your freedom impacted. It might be temporary, but you will be impacted.
And when that isn’t enough, they’re going to have new ways of getting at you, because our Leaders — who have none of the positive attributes of our Founders — are busily making sure that we are all tracked, all the time. Every aspect of our lives will be available for inspection.
At the moment, the idea is to collect information about everything you do on the Internet, from whatever device you might use to do it and from any place at which you might do it. And the logs must be kept for at least two years for the police to review when they feel the need. Anyone who remembers the FBI’s Carnivore should be concerned about where this could lead. As technology improves — particularly for predictions based on data-mining — we move farther and farther away from the freedom our Founders enjoyed.
As I said, freedom is like oxygen. But like miners ignoring the canaries in the mineshaft, by the time enough people realize what’s wrong, it will be too late.
Next up? RFIDs for everyone!