Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok discussed how No One is Innocent. He referenced Harvey Silverglate’s book, Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. As the title indicates, Silverglate thinks that people commit three felonies per day on average. Taborrok doesn’t think it is that high, but that it is certainly true that people commit felonies commonly. He referenced a common why that we all commit felonies, “Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that came to your house but was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to 5 years in prison.”
Tabarrok’s primary concern is government surveillance. Since we are all of us committing serious crimes all of the time, it really does matter that the government is always watching us. As I’ve discussed, today the government is just looking for bomb plots. Soon it will be looking for drug users. And after that it will be the adulterer who is destroying our great country. That isn’t just paranoia; this kind of data use creep is a well known phenomenon.
But the problem is much deeper than Tabarrok indicates. The one thing that I learned from Ayn Rand that was really valuable was her comment about how the Soviet Union kept people in check. She noted that that they didn’t do that by enforcing laws very strictly. They did it by having a gazillion laws that no one enforced. Or, at least, they were never enforced as long as a person didn’t annoy the power elite. If someone started talking publicly about the need for government reform, well then, suddenly the police found all kinds of laws that the person was breaking.
That’s the problem we have in the United States. We’ve already see the United States government go after anti-war groups in the name of terrorism. An even better example is John Kiriakou, who is doing two and a half years in prison. He’s there because he blew the whistle on our torture program, but of course that isn’t the technical reason. The government found a minor offense to justify putting him in a cage for 30 months. Meanwhile, no one who broke the law by being part of the torture program is in jail, even though in addition to torture they have certainly all thrown away junk mail that didn’t belong to them.
The evidence is clear: our government will persecute anyone that gets in its way. And these unenforced laws make it easy. And when the government stores all of our phone and internet information for later use, you can bet that anyone who gets in the way of the government will have plenty of incriminating evidence against them just sitting on the NSA computers.