C-Net news item, with the ominous title of "FBI
digs deeper into the Web," details how the feds will
be tracing the digital trails people leave as they surf the
internet, and reports the outrage of civil libertarians. The
new guidelines giving the Justice Department the formal authority
to monitor the online activities of Americans will provide
"stunning insight into their beliefs and habits."
Blackmail, provocations, the political uses of leaking a certain
politician's online "habits" – these are the least
objectionable possibilities that come to mind.
latest power grab, if it is not repulsed, will Sovietize American
life. "I hate to be in a position of telling people 'don't
go online and speak' or 'watch what you say,'" says Jim
Dempsey, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology,
"but you have to take from this that on an arbitrary
basis, the FBI is going to be tagging people as terrorists
based on what they say online."
LIKE IN THE MOVIES
that brought to mind a movie I just happened to have watched
over the weekend: the film
version of Ayn Rand's We
the Living, a 1943 Italian production of Rand's first
novel, starring Alida Valli
and Rossano Brazzi.
We the Living tells the story of Kira Argounova, an
18-year-old aspiring engineer in Soviet Petrograd whose love
for the aristocratic Leo sets her in a life-and-death struggle
with the Soviet regime. The story, set in the early 1920s,
when the Soviets are still consolidating their rule, is truly
brought to life by Ms. Valli, who suffuses the role of
Kira with an almost
supernatural quality, as if the character created by Rand
right off the pages of the novel.
of the opening scenes take place at the Technological Institute,
where Kira is enrolled, at a student meeting which shows the
struggle of the "red" students against the openly
anti-communist Cadets. Kira is sitting with the Cadets, talking
with a friend, who warns her to be careful of what she says:
"Their spies are everywhere." The Communist students
harangue them from the platform, roaring their intention to
create a "proletarian university," one that serves
the purposes of the new Soviet order.
meeting ends with the singing of the Communist anthem, the
In the novel, Rand describes the scene as follows:
was the song of soldiers bearing sacred banners and of priests
carrying swords. It was an anthem to the sanctity of strength.
had to rise when the 'Internationale' was played.
stood smiling at the music. 'This is the first beautiful thing
I've noticed about the revolution,' she said to her neighbor.
careful,' the freckled girl whispered, glancing around nervously,
'someone will hear you.'
all this is over,' said Kira, 'when the traces of their republic
are disinfected from history – what a glorious funeral march
this will make!'
little fool! What are you talking about?'
man's hand grasped Kira's wrist and wheeled her around.
stared up into two gray eyes that looked like the eyes of
a tamed tiger; but she was not quite sure whether it was tamed
this sinister looking thug stares at her coldly, like a snake
that's spied its dinner, Kira faces him down with perfect
Randian disdain, demanding to know "How much are you
paid for snooping around?" He threatens her, and she
laughs in his face: "Our stairs are slippery, and there
are four floors to climb, so be careful when you come to arrest
you exceedingly brave," the Commie Snake-in-the-grass
wants to know, "or just stupid?"
let you find that out," says Kira.
OUTSIDE THE MOVIE THEATER
time I see this scene in the film, I am moved to applaud –
but in the (sur)real life movie of post-9/11 America, I don't
expect to be moved to do that very often. Not everyone is
as brave as Kira. Indeed, hardly anyone is, and so we have
no right to expect that the Sovietization of America will
produce many like her. Most will be cowed by the new regulations,
content to look over their shoulders in silent resentment,
hoping to be protected by their own insignificance. Some will
resist, but these will be drowned out by opportunists and
the court intellectuals -- even a few tame "libertarians,"
who would gladly sell the last remnants of their integrity
for an invitation to a White House dinner.
further on in the C-Net piece, past the horrified objections
of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library
Association, and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Minority
Member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., we come, finally, to Ashcroft's
chief apologist, the main defender of this draconian legislation
– none other than our old friend, Roger Pilon,
of the Cato Institute, who has the gall to couch his apologia
in the rhetoric of "limited" government. "The
first business of government is to protect its citizens from
the kind of threats we saw on Sept. 11," he avers – as
if spying on American citizens, infiltrating political meetings,
and trailing me as I surf the internet would've somehow prevented
the problem, as we have seen in the recent revelations, isn't
that the authorities failed to collect enough information
– but that they failed to act on the
information they already had. The point, however, is not
to protect us from terrorists, but to establish a legal and
in these new guidelines in any way is in violation of constitutional
protections. There's nothing illegal about compiling a dossier.'
Pilon compares the FBI's plan for more patrolling of public
Web spaces to a beat cop walking the neighborhood. 'It has
been objected that this will allow agents to monitor perfectly
legal behavior -- that's true,' he said. 'The cop working
the beat observes legal behavior. The reason for walking the
beat is to engage in a more proactive effort to prevent crime.'"
CONSTITUTION, AND THEIRS
begin with, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal
government to maintain "dossiers" on American citizens,
and therefore it is forbidden. Furthermore, even if we don't
adhere to this strict constructionist theory of the Constitution,
the alleged "right" of government to spy on a "public"
meeting is prohibited by the First Amendment, which specifically
forbids "abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble."
But surely monitoring those peaceable assemblies, compiling
dossiers on the attendees, and implicitly threatening them
with legal consequences, represents a major abridgement
of these rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In addition,
the blanket surveillance non-guidelines issued by Ashcroft
are a grievous violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees
"the right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures." The post-9/11 powers seized by the feds
throw out the need for "probable cause," in the
language of the Amendment, and override the need for specificity:
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."
movement to grant to the federal government the power to spy
on American citizens, at any time and place, for any or no
particular reason, violates the letter and the spirit of the
Constitution. It represents nothing less than an attempt to
overthrow the rule of law, and replace it with the
edicts of nameless, faceless bureaucrats and spies. It is
the regime of Commie-snakes-in-the-grass, of the sinister
thug who asked Kira:
you exceedingly brave – or just stupid?"
bravery is too much to expect, these days, but the Cato crowd
doesn't even have the decency to keep quiet about their cowardice.
Oh, no, they have to advertise it by becoming the most
obsequious apologists for the new anti-constitutional order.
It's disgusting, frankly, to have to "refute" such
non-arguments as the comparison of Ashcroft's spies, monitoring
our digital trails, to a cop on the beat. For this is no ordinary
American policeman – who wouldn't come barging into anyone's
home willy nilly – but a Soviet version of the cop on the
evoke the benevolent image of the beat cop in the service
of an openly totalitarian scheme to spy on the American people
really is a new low for the War Party: it would be hysterically
funny if it wasn't so damned serious. For if online activities
are within the legitimate purview of the authorities, then
why shouldn't the Thought Police on the beat be monitoring
all means of communication, including the books we
read, the periodicals we subscribe to, the conversations we
have in the street? Where will this end?
tell you where: with the overthrow of our old Republic. If
this bloodless coup succeeds, the republican forms will remain:
the Constitution will be preserved under glass, the crumbling
curio of a bygone era, but the imperial power of the Presidency,
and the independent power of the bureaucracy, will have usurped
the old constitutional order. A republic in form: an Empire
in all but name. That is how the American experiment will
end: the American Revolution, once an inspiration to free
men the world over, will have been betrayed – and reversed.
it be recorded: when the final assault on our old Republic
was launched, some stood by their posts, defending the heritage
of the Founders until the last man went down fighting – while
others gave the enemy the keys to the fortress, in hopes of
currying favor with the regime. As to what the reward for
their treason will be, we can only imagine. Maybe Dubya will
create a new position in the "Homeland Security"
apparatus, the post of Chief Apologist, and give it to Pilon,
or perhaps Ed Crane himself. Just think
of the intellectual challenge: how to come up with a "libertarian"
rationale for an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful State.
Pilon has already shown himself up to the task by arguing
from a "minimal statist" position, dressing up a
demand for a fantastically intrusive State as if it were "the
first business of government." Yeah, right – the first
business of a totalitarian government, the sort of
government that never has fully sprouted on American soil
– until now.
weird how hypocrisy can be almost comical. The Cato Institute
honored Ayn Rand a couple of years ago at a special event
celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the publication of
Ayn Rand's Atlas
Shrugged: "Atlas and the World." Now they
side with Kira's interlocutor, and lead the charge for a Soviet
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