Monday, March 2, 2009

Suing for liberty and freedom

Today's question is: how does one go about suing the federal gov't for liberty?

Liberty, you know, as in "freedom", as was written in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" - that liberty.

Why would one sue for anything that's already guaranteed?

Because the concept and the implementation has faded and will soon disappear altogether.

How is that?

Computers. Dossiers.

One of the more compelling stories in Christianity recalls Christ challenging people about to throw stones at a sinner. He said "let he who is without sin throw the first stone", and nobody threw the first stone.

Why? Obviously, nobody was without sin.

Well, that was true then, and it's true now. None of us are without sin. I know people who in their lifetimes sinned quite a bit, so much so that if they were brought to trial for every sin, they would have been in jail since teenage years.

But that didn't happen. Why? Because they didn't get caught for every sin, obviously.

Well, times have changed, rapidly and dramatically. Nowadays, through the "miracles" of forensics, cameras, recorders, the Internet, computers, and God knows what other recording devices are online and being brought online (to fight "terrorism", of course), enough information is being stored about each of us that, given motivation, a person with access to this information could probably find sins about anyone put under that looking glass. Oh, sure, there are Mother Teresa's out there still, but what about the person who, say, smoked a little pot last week in a friends house, Or cashed a check a little in advance, or went through a stop sign, or cursed someone out who happens to be in a privileged group, etc.

The point is that people commit crimes (and "crimes") all the time, but they are rarely caught. It's commonplace for people involved with criminal justice to say "we caught him this time, but he probably did this many times before until we finally caught him", and the whole criminal justice system reflects this way of working. Indeed, it has to, because if everyone were caught for every crime, most of the country could consist of jails. But the system works because catching people every now and then serves as enough of a deterrent for others to think twice.

I'm not proposing that we use our new technological capabilities to catch every wrong doer. It wouldn't fly for the reason cited above. So let's get past that.

But this brings us to the problem part.

The problem part is that modern technological capabilities make possible - indeed, they exist already, today - virtual dossiers on each of us. A person with access and authority to this information system can pull up your dossier and search it for clues or strings or *something* to either (a) nail you straight away, or (b) begin closer surveillance in some aspect of your life to beef up the information recording feed for the a future review. Maybe your car's movements haven't been tracked as such before you became a suspect, so that part is fixed and now you can't drive anywhere without being tracked. Maybe it took some extra instructions for a satellite, of many some extra instructions in a computer program that looks at traffic light recording cameras, or something else.

With the recording in place, perhaps enhanced for your non-benefit, watching your dossier from time to time, eventually something comes up to nail you.

Now let me get to the crux of the problem: there will be two kinds of people in the near-future world, those with access to these dossiers and those without. A new kind of class difference, those in the "information class", with access to these dossiers and controls over beefing them up, and everyone else.

Let's say that you're a writer, or a researcher, and you're pursuing what you think is criminal behavior by some authority figure, or group in authority, and they get wind of your investigation. Would they use whatever power they have to stop you? Would they have access to your dossier? Would they beef up survelinece of you to beef up that dossier and improve the chances of nailing you?

All of the above.

You know, some of us wonder - or should be - exactly why nobody in gov't is standing up the special interest groups who have done so much harm to America. Be it the military invasion of the Middle East or the economic meltdown, there have been monumentally large crimes committed to make these things happen. Where were the watchdogs while this was going on? Surely there had to be some. But they were silenced, weren't they. How do you think that happened, that people who truly cared about America and it's people could have been uniformly, to a one, silenced?

Power. What is the nature of power, anyway? Have you ever heard the expression "he who runs the information runs the show"? If you haven't, here you have it.

So, what's the post all about? It's about going to court to stop what's happened and is happening, because those dossiers take away one of our most fundamental, unalienable rights: the right to liberty. We can't be free at the same time that a whole class of people have access to our dossiers and can find something to hang around our neck should we do something simple like talk badly about them.

Sure, our Constitution and Bill of Rights didn't talk about this kind of power - and protecting us from it - simply because it didn't exist. But it does exist now, and now is the time to renew the spirit in which this right was defined and update it.

Is it already too late? Possibly. But whether it's too late today or not, this ability is growing by the day.

Footnote: I am qualified to talk about what computers are capable of. Today I work with Windows and the Internet, but I've also spent more then 2 decades as an IBM Systems Programmer, and three years of that working with software that monitored the performance of large computer systems. Can they eat everything on the Internet? For breakfast, without breaking a sweat.


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