The Death of Rule of Law – Part II of VI: Free Association, Free Speech, and Security in Our Personal Effects

Death of Free Association

In most nations on planet Earth participating in political opposition is extremely dangerous. Truly peaceful debate amongst political enemies followed by a vote of the people is the rare exception to the rule. In most nations elections, those in power rig the outcomes, terrorize the voters, and imprison or assassinate the opposition. This fundamentally means that, in those despot nations who purport to have free elections, every election cycle is really a minor civil war, and every change in power is a coup d’état.

Our Founding Fathers wanted a better system… a peaceful system where the people decide who leads and the rules are democratic and fair for the majority and the minority. A system where people of like mind could gather, speak their mind and attempt to effect change without fear of murder, imprisonment or harassment, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” President Richard Nixon violated this fundamental tenet of democracy and ended up resigning the presidency as a result. That was forty years ago.

Now enter President Barack Obama. We already know that the NSA tracks all our individual communication networks… just in case. What you may not know is that once he was in office, Obama’s IRS began targeting and harassing many of his political enemies, such as Christine O’Donnell, to such an extent as to actually sway electoral outcomes. A parade of political conservatives have testified about the harassment before Congress, while former IRS official, Lois Lerner, in a tantamount admission of guilt, exercised her Fifth Amendment rights hoping to dodge responsibility for denying President Obama’s enemies their First Amendment rights.

I am confident there will never be any legal repercussions for President Obama and he will finish his term as president unscathed. His people will close ranks and no one of any import will go to prison because Congress will invariably conclude the abuse of power was not illegal. All Nixon did was have his minions break into the office of his opponents in the attempt to steal their playbook. Not even Nixon had the brass to attempt to use a government agency to bully his enemies into submission.


Death of Free Speech and the Death of Unlawful Search and Seizure

Freedom of speech is not about gossip or pornography or vulgar language or campaign donations or PAC dollars. Those are the evils of free speech. Our Constitutional guarantee of free speech exists so we can criticize the King and the British East India Company without being punished. Not only do we have a guarantee of free speech, U.S. and international copyright laws say we own the copyright for everything we say and write. Those laws are effectively dead, assaulted by arrogant leaders and rapidly developing technologies, and killed by our malaise.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, 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.”

In 2013, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, confirmed what everyone already knew. The Federal Government, along with giant corporations of all kinds were recording, tracking, and tabulating our every electronic movement. Our conversations, our correspondence, our purchases, our internet searches, everything. All without warrant or just cause, and without financially compensating us for illegally benefiting from our copyrighted materials. This massive database is then mined to create a profile in black and white of every American – our habits, attitudes, health, movements, associations and the like. Corporations are stealing the copyright of our lives for their own profit and the government is monitoring and storing the data, without warrant, to save for that rainy day some random, law-abiding citizen just might do something they do not like. With a few clicks on a keyboard our lives can be parsed, our characters assassinated and our futures crippled.

All this has a very chilling effect on real free speech – the kind of speech that criticizes the government or takes the rich and powerful to task. For instance, Obama’s IRS used its power to single out and assassinate the character of Delaware Republican senatorial candidate, Christine O’Donnell. In 2010 O’Donnell was in a close race against Democrat Chris Coons. Despite O’Donnell’s outspoken conservative views in a relative progressive stronghold, she was mounting serious threat to Coons’ election. The voters liked her… so someone in Obama’s IRS decided to place a fake tax lien on a property she no longer owned, made the information public to embarrass her, and swung the election in Coons favor. Those in power did not like what O’Donnell had to say, did not want her deal with her as a senator, and made sure she lost – all with a few clicks on a computer. This is not Larry Flint or Catcher in the Rye. This is about the core of our democratic process, and if no one goes to prison, if there is no significant government accountability, then we know for certain true free speech and free association are dead and our personal effects are no longer our own.

Big Government And Big Business Steal The Copyright Of Our Lives

Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to the printing press in the middle of the 15th Century, finally allowing man to disseminate ideas on a vast scale. The printing press became instrumental in the spread of enlightenment throughout Europe, educating the common man and ushering in the early modern period. While the printing press allowed the rapid spread of revolutionary concepts such as the Protestant Reformation, the abolitionist movement, and women’s rights, it also demonstrated a glaring need to create laws to protect a person’s intellectual property. Patent laws. Copyright laws. Laws that state, “Thou shalt not steal another’s ideas, words or inventions.” Despite this need, it took another 250 years for the first copyright laws to be enacted.

The concept of justice requires that rights be both inalienable and ubiquitous. A truly ‘just’ society must equally and fairly protect all its members. It is a tall order, for it countermands that base nature of man to seek an unfair advantage over his neighbor. Despite having defined the key ingredients to a just society – murder is wrong, theft is wrong, lying is wrong, adultery is wrong, cheating is wrong – nearly 4,000 years ago, the even-handed administration of justice remains a constant battle pitting the criminal, the corrupt, and the rich and powerful, against the common man who simply wants a fair shake.

So what, exactly, is going on today that is so awful? Well, rapid advances in technology are outstripping the letter of the law. For instance, I own the copyright for what you are currently reading just as much as I own the shirt on my back. EVERY word we write is de facto copyrighted without need to lay claim to that copyright. Yet, governments and corporations around the globe are copying and storing our written word for their benefit without our permission, and without any legal repercussions whatsoever. Ethically, I own the copyright on my thoughts, habits, attitudes, preferences and the like. Until the beginning of the 21st Century there was really no need to address this in a legal sense for it was nearly impossible to track people on a mass scale and steal this information. Today, via cell-phone tracking, monitoring of internet use and purchasing habits, various retailer “rewards-type” programs, RFID chips, omnipresent video surveillance, and newly introduced body-recognition scanners based on Microsoft’s Kinect technology, governments and businesses around the globe are able to access, copy, utilize, and profit from the copyright of our lives. Buried in the End User Licensing Agreements (EULA), terms of service and privacy policies of virtually every piece of software and internet service we use, we agree to give away our souls in exchange for a mere pittance. We give Google our very essence for nothing, and they sell it for billions. Going even deeper, in a just society, we own our own selves – our blood and bones – and that means we own the patent and copyright to our own unique genetic code. Twenty years ago there was no technological way to steal it from us. Today, all it takes is a drop of our blood and our genetic make-up can be laid bare for all to see and use without our knowledge or permission.

This is not a reality we have to accept. I do not use Facebook because I do not agree to their amorphous, ever-changing terms of service. I rarely use Google. I try to seek out those companies who respect my privacy, and try to shun those who profit by thieving the copyright of my life. If that means I choose a service that costs me a few dollars a year over the “free” service, I do not complain, for in reality, nothing is free. We all pay, one way or another. Finally, since “free market” solutions can only take me so far, I also voice my concerns with my elected representatives, in hopes they see the virtue in a just society and act accordingly. Pushing back is a lot easier than you think. We do not have to be sheep. Willful violations of federal copyright law can result in up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per offense. We are not required to give up our 4th Amendment rights, our international copyright rights, nor our right to self-ownership simply because we want to participate in today’s world. Can you imagine the US Postal Service, or FedEx, or UPS  only delivering your goods and correspondences if you agreed to allow them to make a digital copy of the contents first? You would be outraged! That is exactly what is happening with all of our electronic activities. ALL OF THEM. Phone calls, texts, e-mails, search engines, purchases. It is time to get outraged.