Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Well-Boiled Frog

So this is an exchange with an aquaintance and myself that really got my goat. I had wtitten about an article discussing how a growing number of police agencies are carrying devices that can extract all of your private information from your cellphone during a routine traffic stop, including all texts, emails, geotags, photos, videos, etc., virtually anything on your phone including deleted items. Though such legislations and capabilities have been challenged profusely in court, several courts have deemed these warrantless search and seizures of ones property completely constitutional and legal. To my objections of such my acquaintance submitted the following: (My response follows)

"One thing I've noticed about Americans is that the moment we feel we are being monitored or "big brothered" when tend to freak out. And while I feel an officer asking for your cell phone and accessing our data is cause for concern the one thing I don't worry about is a complete loss of freedom.

People who worry about losing freedom seem to forget one thing: Americans enjoy so much freedom that regardless of what the government or law enforcement tries to do, I feel there will ALWAYS be a point in which we decide enough is enough and push back. That's why I personally get up in arms when I hear stories of monitoring or other types of privacy violations. Because there is never a doubt in my mind that if the government crosses too far over the line, there will be a point in which they get pushed back. People will only go as far as you allow them to. With that being said: if someone feels the accessing of smart phone by a law enforcement is too much they still have options. (1.) Fight the legislation that allows it. (2.) Refuse to give the officer their smart phone. (3.) Don't carry a smartphone, because quite frankly, Americans have survived hundreds of years without one and as unbelievable as it may seem to some people; Smartphones are NOT a necessity."

And my response:

John, (Name changed to protect the utterly stupid).

I don’t worry about losing all of my freedom for the very reason you suggest: that there is a point where Americans will push back. The problem I have is when my fellow countrymen feel that a freedom they do not cherish or are willing to defend is one that I should not either. When people laud our freedoms they generally weigh them against other, less free parts of the world, rather than how free we are, as opposed to how free we were at the beginning of this great experiment of personal freedom. The founding fathers are regularly pooh-poohed today as not understanding current dynamics and the necessity for the governments whittling away of its own limitations, yet their own words of that day are rife with exhortations that the nature of government is to incrementally do so, and that slowly diminishing our freedom like the proverbial slow-boiled frog was a far more insidious and certain fate. They also recognized man’s innate nature to passively accept dominion and ostensible safety over freedom and uncertainty. Ben Franklin in this is perhaps most famous of these in his quote that “Those who will trade freedom for safety will have, and deserve neither." Even in their day the world had perhaps equal amounts of those demanding their freedom with its concomitant risks, juxtaposed against Statists. There was no shortage even then, even right after deposing one tyrant, of those who wished to install another “better” king as our government. Long into our fight for independence and freedom there were many (Tories) who were either alright with the status quo, or unwilling to fight for their own freedom. Many of these of course, proudly sang the praises of those hard won freedoms though – after others had fought, died, and won those freedoms for them. And even today, that is a profound irony we too easily forget. Many freedoms that we have but do not cherish are a result of many dead Americans who died acquiring them for us but never lived to experience them in their own lives.

Like the proverbial slow-boiled frog, we really barely recognize just how amazingly far our government has progressed in whittling steadily away at our freedoms. And like that proverbial frog, telling his fellow boilee’s to quit their paranoia and whining, those who have little reference point for those freedoms already stealthily lost, many before they were even born, we are constantly told; "I am fine with trading my freedom for safety, and thus you should be too." I propose a different, if unlikely reality. Those who want and are willing to struggle to maintain their rights and freedoms should have those freedoms, and those ambiguous or uncaring about them should live with the heel of such government upon their neck simultaneously, without complaint. That however is not reality. The real, and unfortunate reality of the world is that those who care for and struggle the most for rights and freedoms often never experience the rewards of such fights, and rarely sufficiently to offset the price of the struggles, while those who care little, and struggle less go on to enjoy those hard-won rights and freedoms with little understanding and even less appreciation.

A few years ago I wanted to get married. I felt this my right as a human being. I did not wish, nor ask for the sanction of the government. I only wanted to be married by a pastor of a church and did not feel the government should have any place in such a religious sacrament, either bringing it together, or putting it asunder as that seems to me, the sole venue of God and of those involved. As a license for any act is by definition “Permission to do that which is otherwise illegal” I did not feel I was doing anything illegal by going before my friends and family and swearing my faithful allegiance to my bride. And she felt likewise. Pastor after pastor simply refused to perform such religious sacrament without permission and blessing upon my marriage by the state. Even after consulting with the state, who assured me that there was nothing illegal or wrong about doing such virtually all pastors were in fear of simply marrying me in a church as a solely religious sacrament. They were all terrified of the repercussions of such even though the state made assurances there would be none and that they simply would not recognize my marriage as valid. Though these pastors have in theory, more freedom than even they understand, someone had made it clear to them that they exercise such freedom at their own peril. And each of these, I am sure would laud the extraordinary rights of this country, all while being terrified of simply exercising them.

The problem is not what freedom is currently being diminished or obliterated but that the nature of government (and those who are willing to sacrifice my freedom for their own (sense of) security) is that the boundaries of their power will always be challenged and that only our diligence slows that encroachment. And every infringement upon our promised liberties has been met with governmental assurances that such is harmless and necessary and the sycophantic refrain of the accepting and the apathetic: "Nothing to see here - move along..." The other constant danger is that those born into the current balance of oppression and freedom will find it perfectly acceptable as “It’s always been that way.” And each successive generation lives comfortably with fewer freedoms while little understanding or caring that it really hasn’t.

Regarding your proposed options:

1. Obviously there are many who have fought and continue to fight that legislation but seem to be fighting a losing battle, ostensibly because of the law enforcement agencies who value efficient tools over their oaths to abide by and defend the constitution(s), and those of the public without a healthy skepticism of governmental power.

2. Refusing to give the officer their smartphone is a grand idea. Valid (and good) Anti-texting while driving laws give any officer probable cause to access your phone should they “suspect” you were texting while driving, or even talking without a hands free device. I would recommend anyone suggesting such to try it themselves before recommending it to others. As the Clash so aptly opined in their song “… you have your rights… as long as you are not so dumb as to actually try it.”

3. "Don’t carry a smartphone because they are not a necessity."

What other non-necessities should I forego rather than assert my constitutional protections against unreasonable (and without warrant) search and seizures? I find it simply amazing that the solution of some to the eroding of my rights and freedoms is to surrender others. And while my fellow man is comfortable with surrendering my freedoms that they might not value, I wonder what freedoms they value but I may not that they would not be concerned with me surrendering for them? And that is the most insidious danger to our freedoms that we face: that so many are uncaring and willing to sacrifice the freedoms of others while having little understanding or concern that they have no right to do so.

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