Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The assault on our constitutional rights continues, with ever more egregious incursions by over reaching government agencies. We have watched with alarm as the Brits have allowed their own ancient rights to dissolve before the relentless bullying of the once-soft, blob-like socialist nanny state harden into a coercive police state overseeing the most minute aspects of citizen's lives, down to and including what they put in the trash, how they "manage" their left-overs, and how they rear their children. Britons are notoriously the most "watched" people on earth; London has more video cams per person and per city block than any place on earth. David Hume, to name only one of dozens of thinkers in the liberal tradition of England, would be justly stunned at the deterioration of the one nation on earth that he claimed had more to do with the historical development of political liberty than any other.

This is our patrimony too; and similarly, we are seeing governments at all levels, ostensibly under our control, return the relation of citizen and state to the world historical norm of oppressive authorities and cowed citizenries. It is way too early to tell whether technology has more power for the liberty of citizens, or more control for authorities. Stories like the following bode ill for us on these shores; the socialist "nudgers" here have been looking on their European and British colleagues with envy over the wide sway they have over docile populations long since acquiescent to the devil's bargain of generous (but unsustainable) welfare benefits in exchange for giving up constitutional, civil, and natural rights and the mindset that insists on keeping them.

Item: The Obama administration's position appears to have hardened into accepting no privacy rights for email. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in United States v. Warshak, presumably under the auspices of the higher courts and the administration, pressed for authority for warrantless searches of hand held devices by police officers (and what logically follows, FBI, IRS, and all other alphabet agencies grabbing ever larger enforcement authority). Says the UK Register:

This appears to be more than a mere argument in support of the constitutionality of a Congressional email privacy and access scheme. It represents what may be the fundamental governmental position on Constitutional email and electronic privacy - that there isn't any. What is important in this case is not the ultimate resolution of that narrow issue, but the position that the United States government is taking on the entire issue of electronic privacy. That position, if accepted, may mean that the government can read anybody's email at any time without a warrant.

Item: The feds don't think you have "any reasonable expectation of privacy" when using your cell phone--or even carrying it. Michael Isikoff, of Newsweek magazine:

The Justice Department is poised this week to publicly defend a little-known law-enforcement practice that critics say may be the "sleeper" privacy issue of the 21st century: the collection of cell-phone "tracking" records that identify the physical locations where the phones have been...Most people don't understand they are carrying a tracking device in their pockets," says Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group that has been trying to monitor the Justice Department's practice.

Item: In perhaps the most incredible instance of Big Brother type intrusion, we find an affluent school district in suburban Philadelphia handing out Apple laptops free to high school students for their school work. With web cameras that can--and were--remotely activated to spy on students in their own bedrooms. From state-controlled Associated Press writer MaryClaire Dale: (you really must read the whole thing)

A suburban Philadelphia school district used the webcams in school-issued laptops to spy on students at home, potentially catching them and their families in compromising situations, a family claims in a federal lawsuit...The school district can activate the webcams without students' knowledge or permission, the suit said. Plaintiffs Michael and Holly Robbins suspect the cameras captured students and family members as they undressed and in other embarrassing situations, according to the suit.

An assistant principle calls in a kid to tell him the school thinks some of what he is doing in his room is unacceptable. When he asked her how the HELL she or anyone else knows anything about what he does in his room, she showed him pictures taken by the webcam on his school provided computer.

Is this getting creepy enough for you yet? What other boundaries are being transgressed, even now? How do you imagine the school board meeting went that included on the agenda, "remote control spy cams on computers distributed to students"; what possible justification could anyone come up with? Which federal bench will this case land on, and will that judge hew to that inconvenient, rickety old Bill of Rights, or will he or she rule in the spirit and intention of the administration and all socialist governments?

I suspect the Justice Department knows that public interest law firms do not have the resources to fight all the rights incursions the government can throw at the American people, and that it is a war of attrition. Step by step, sometimes little, sometimes alarmingly large, our rights are being taken away by helpful authorities claiming to do it for our own good.

Maybe we'll all get laptops.


David C. Innes said...

Well, I can see that my first job as citizen, after speaking out on this blog, is to cast my votes in November in favor of candidates who will help us withstand this sort of thing. (I don't mean "votes" in the Chicago sense, of course, but for different offices.)

David C. Innes said...

Harold, wrote to a friend in England about the fridge police for on the ground reporting. I asked:

"Is it true that there are food police in GB who can come into your home and search your fridge for...what? leftovers? fatty foods? something like that? Are you free to speak, or is there another police that monitors your Facebook account?"

He is a reliable informant, and responded:

"The only food police here are the health inspectors who visit commercial premises dealing in food, and public places like schools & restaurants and rate them on hygiene, cleanliness etc. They then display a start system (0 avoid, 5 spotless) on the door so you know whether you want to eat there or not. They can't come into your home & look in your fridge, although in the UK nanny state it wouldn't surprise me if that became a law! As for Facebook monitoring, they're watching you!!"

Harold Kildow said...

David, here is what I was recalling, from Jan 10 2009 London Telegraph:

Home cooks will also be told what size portions to prepare, taught to understand "best before" dates and urged to make more use of their freezers.

The door-to-door campaign, which starts tomorrow, will be funded by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a Government agency charged with reducing household waste.

The officials will be called "food champions". However, they were dismissed last night as "food police" by critics who called the scheme an example of "excessive government nannying