Thursday, August 14, 2008

There was a time when...

There was a time when privacy violations were considered a serious matter. During colonial times (yes, it's been that long) the British would issue general warrants (discussed here) which essentially gave the people executing the warrant broad power to search for contraband or make arrests, without specifying what contraband was being searched for (or why) or the reason for an arrest. To do away with this generally detested practice, the fourth amendment was written to require that:

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.

Truly, it appears that the late 18th century was a heady time for privacy. By contrast, today, government seems to take the same approach to information gathering as some people do with climbing Everest - they don't need a good reason, they just do it because it's there. The stated reason given for most intrusions is to prevent terrorism, but this is largely bunk. Take this plan to photograph and store the license numbers of every vehicle that enters Manhattan. If I were a terrorist who wanted to bring a bomb into Manhattan, this plan would be no deterrent whatsoever, as I would simply rent a car. This would have the advantages (from the terrorist point of view) of both being anonymous, and probably being large enough to carry more explosives than I can fit into my actual car. So why is there a plan to gather this data? My guess is that someone in government thought it would be cool, and some vendor wanted to sell a new toy, and no one even considered that broad scale, suspicionless data collection is not something that government should be involved in. *sigh*

On the bright side, during the late 18th century I would have had to worry about things like yellow fever, and or malaria, so I suppose it all evens out in the end.

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