Is Extremism in the Service of Liberty a Vice

THIS WEEKEND WE CELEBRATE the fallen of America’s military conflict. We like to style it that they gave their all for freedom, motherhood, and apple pie. But you know better. They gave the last full measure to preserve the power of the state.

How can I say that? Easy. The Constitution says, in essence, “They ain’t allowed to do that,” (whatever that is), but they keep doing it — over and over and over again.

We don’t have freedom in this country. We have to tug the forelock and beg permission like the most subjected of royal subjects of some divine-right monarch. There’s no freedom in that. And all of America’s wars haven’t made a damned thing one damned bit better.

I have, here recently, been gradually accreting and allowing to set like hardening concrete — getting stronger as it cures — a strong opinion that there exists, and is worthy of defense, a universal human right to privacy.

I would ask you to please consider the notion as resolved and debate with yourself over it, Oxford-style. Or Socratically, if you prefer.

I don’t have the time or energy to devote to a long, detailed disquisition, but please think about these examples gratiarum.

The growth of the panopticon state. Court rulings that police are allowed to observe what goes on in the privacy of your home via infrared photography since the “images” are present on the outside of your house. Court rulings that police are allowed to hook a bug on your car to see where you go, or track your cell phone, or datamine your internet usage. The requirement that your bank provide your financial effects to the Internal Revenue Service. That businesses can know more about you that you know yourself and can sell that information to other businesses.

Sandy Pentland, of MIT’s School of Architecture, speaking at MIT’s Media Lab said, “You should own the data about you.” I couldn’t say it any more clearly.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution reads: The Right of the People to be secure, in their persons papers, and effects, against unreasonable searchs and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall isssue, 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.

Please to note that no actor is named — the proscription is universal, including against private actors. Also please note the use of the word “shall”. This is an imperative in legal language. There can be no exceptions. This is like unto an absolute command from God.

I expect to write more on this, as it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Meantime, I welcome your input. What do you see as the limits — if any — to a right to privacy?

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