Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Surveillance Nation

Russians are necessarily worse drivers than anyone else, they just have more cameras. 

People today like to whine about how their freedoms are being taken away.   But oddly enough, we live in an era of greater freedom than anytime before in the history of mankind.

Consider this:   When I was a kid, pornography was illegal.  Other than "soft core" porn like Playboy, X-rated magazines and videos could be seized if sent though the mail, and you could be charged with possession of porn - depending on which State or County you lived in.  Today, of course, it is all over the Internet and freely available to anyone, just about anywhere.  So long as everyone depicted is over the age of 18, it is perfectly legal to possess and view, and indeed, the courts have held this is your right.

Again, this was not the case, when I was a kid.   You could go to jail!

And speaking of sex, most of it was illegal.  Not only were homosexual acts outlawed, but many sexual acts even between consenting adults outside of marriage (or even inside!) was considered not only immoral, but illegal as well.  Even adultery was punishable by law.

Gambling was prohibited in 49 States.  You had to go to Nevada to gamble legally.  Today, you can gamble anywhere, and even the government is in on the game, selling lottery tickets.

Oh, and you can legally smoke pot in several states now, until Jeff Sessions lowers the boom.

So take that, Libertarians!   You live in an era of more freedom than ever.   The 55-mph speed limit was abolished, stores are open on Sundays (well, except liquor stores in part of the South) and "dirty dancing" is no longer forbidden.  What more do you want?

Of course, we have seen some retrenchment.   The voting age was lowered to 18, while the drinking age was raised to 21.   Despite all our new-found freedoms, we seem more namby-pamby than ever before.  George Carlin might have made waves with his "seven dirty words" back in 1972, but today, the FCC just doesn't give a damn about swearing.   Nevertheless, the media deems it necessary to censor out words like "s***hole" with little stars so our feelies won't be offended.   They are more afraid of conservative Christians starting a boycott than legal action from the government.   As I noted before, the media lives in a bizarre parallel universe where everything is Mayberry, RFD, and no one has sex or dirty thoughts.  Meanwhile, the rest of the country has discovered the Internet.  And we wonder why cable disconnects are up.

But that was not the point of this blog entry.  What was it?  I started writing it years ago, and only finished it today.   Oh, yes, surveillance.   It is interesting that today, people are more paranoid than ever about "privacy" and whine and complain long and loud about how security cameras and speed cameras are an assault on their Constitutional right to privacy.   People cite the fifth amendment as creating a "right to privacy" under the "penumbra" of the Constitution.   A "penumbra" is apparently some kind of umbrella.

But the fifth amendment doesn't really say anything about a right to privacy - at least with regard to your actions in public spaces.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Where is "privacy" mentioned here?  The idea that you cannot be compelled to testify against oneself has been bootstrapped (along with the 9th amendment, which is a catch-all) to include this new right. Certainly, no one in the 18th Century would have thought that the act of you walking down the street was somehow a protected right - and that no one had the right to record or make note of you doing so.

Today, well, we think otherwise.   Uncle Fred parks his Cadilliac with vanity tags "SEXYFRED" in front of the strip club.   A news truck, a security camera, or Google "street view" capture this piece of data, and Fred gets all bent out of shape - his privacy has been invaded!  Never mind that Uncle Fred has posted nude pictures of himself to a dozen dating and hookup sites - not to mention Craigslist.  He also has all sorts of intimate information about himself on Facebook and other social media sites.  We are obsessed with privacy, but at the same time, bare our souls to the world.

This "privacy penumbra" is one reason we don't have speed cameras in the United States.   Oh, sure, we have cameras that tell you your speed and admonish you for speeding.  But they don't take photos and send you tickets.   Red light cameras, for some reason are exempt from this privacy concern.   Apparently the "right" not to be killed in a T-bone collision trumps your right to keep secret from the world your shitty driving habits.

I for one, just don't get it.  It is not like the government is putting cameras in our bedrooms, but rather on city streets.  And these tend to make me feel safer, even if they are a little creepy sometimes.  People claim that don't like "the government spying on me!" but in fact, the government really doesn't care that last Tuesday, you want to Wal-Mart at 2:45 PM and bought a box of waffle mix.  These are hardly State secrets.

If you are ashamed of something you are doing in your life, ask yourself why.  Uncle Fred certainly doesn't mind people knowing he goes to the strip club - that's why he proudly parks his Caddy out front.   It is only when someone snaps a photo of it - even as part of a background scene - that he gets upset.  Why is this?

Others say that if we allow this sort of surveillance, it will only get worse over time, and the government will be able to track our behaviors and stamp out political dissent.  They can see you walking into the building where the anti-surveillance society is meeting!   But then again, not really.  If you were really doing something illegal, then they can monitor your activities already - with or without a search warrant, depending on what they are looking at.   And if someone is planning on planting a bomb or gunning down concert-goers, well, I for one would be happy if the government was keeping an eye on them.

Hotels today are getting rid of the "do not disturb" signs in hotel rooms, and informing guests that housekeeping will need to enter the room at least once a day, whether you want them to or not. This way, people cannot assemble an arsenal of guns or set up a meth lab or traffic humans - or whatever.  The hotel's rights trump your right to "privacy."

Of course, that is the whole damn point, isn't it?   "Privacy advocates" usually are a front for people doing illegal things.   For example, a young man is driving his girlfriend's rented car, with a trunk loaded up bricks of heroin.   He's a bad guy and should go to jail.   The question before the Supreme Court is, does a non-designated driver in a rental car have an expectation of privacy in the contents of the trunk?

It is an interesting question, as if someone stole my car and was pulled over before I could report it, could the Police be barred from searching the trunk and finding me there bound and gagged? (Good thing we own a hatchback!).   Or does the fact that the car is clearly not his negate his "right to privacy" in someone else's car?  How would the police know that the person had permission to use the car?   The idea that the Police will start "pulling over every rented car" as Justice Sotomayor stated, is a little far-fetched.  You still need "probable cause" under Ohio v. Terry to pull a car over.

But it illustrates the mental gymnastics that some Judges will resort to, to find new rights in the Constitution.  Rights that really don't provide any real benefit to the population, but provide relief to criminals and make the job of the Police that much harder.

No, I am not worried about being pulled over and searched as an unauthorized driver of a rental car.   Why?  Well, first of all, when I rent a car, I make sure I am an authorized driver - and don't let someone who isn't, drive the car.  Why?  Because if they wreck the car, I may not be covered, and now I have to buy the rental car company a new car.

But even if they searched my car, I am not upset or worried.  Why?  Because I don't have 98 bricks of heroin in my trunk and never will.   The "right to privacy" doesn't provide me with any additional rights, unless I am a criminal.  Why are we creating rights that affect only one class of people - the criminal class?

Like most people who have a presence on the Internet, my life is an open book.  I gain nothing from a "right to privacy" other than the knowledge that it will help some criminal who has victimized me, get away with his crime.

In a way, it is like this whole Bitcoin or crypto-currency nonsense.   There is no legitimate use for many of these currencies, but the criminal underworld does make use of them to traffic in drugs, weapons, and children.   What's not to like?   And people get bent out of shape when the government steps in to regulate these wild-West "exchanges" - as if some personal right of theirs is at risk.   And perhaps it is, if they are doing illegal things over the Internet.  But your right to buy a coffee drink with Bitcoin?   That isn't at risk here - it is just impractical as all get out.

Maybe we won't be able to "get away" with things in an era of security cameras on every lamp post.  But then again, what are you trying to get away with?   As I noted in the beginning of this post (aha! it does tie in!) we have more freedom today than ever before in the history of mankind.   You can do what you want, in this country, provided you are not victimizing someone else (except perhaps in the commercial sense).

I don't see how security cameras take away from that freedom, unless you are a criminal.