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:
version of Ayn Rand's We
the Living, a 1943 Italian production of Rand's first novel, starring
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 had leapt
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 "Internationale."
In the novel, Rand describes the scene as follows:"It
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
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 or not."
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 me."
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 Chairman
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 9/11.
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 political precedent:
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
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 beat.
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
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 America.
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