Friday, July 4, 2008

I Might Be Paranoid But I Might Not

Throughout time, humans have willingly given up freedom for what they perceive to be security. Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it more eloquently, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.” The trouble is that freedom is always taken. Either we take freedom for ourselves, or we let others take our freedom from us.

The erosion of our freedoms began in 1960 when, during his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy stated, “… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” While he meant that we should be more active citizens, its unintended meaning is fundamentally unconstitutional, that is, the notion that we exist to serve the state. We’ve lost sight of what John Locke taught us long ago when he argued that government is not our master, rather it is our servant. Since the 1970s our freedoms have not been legislated away so much as they’ve been bureaucratized away. Elected officials aren’t taking our freedoms from us at nearly the rate that the bureaucracy is. This is fundamentally unconstitutional. Individuals we did not elect are making dramatic decisions that take away our freedoms – and we are just letting them. Neither political party is interested in stopping this encroachment.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, there were calls for federal identification cards. There was actually enough hue and cry over this affront to personal liberty that the plan initially fell through. However, the passport requirements and the enhanced driver’s licenses are the first step towards mandatory federal id’s.

H.R. 10 “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act” which was passed on 8 October 2004 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:h.r.00010 contains some truly frightening infringements on our personal freedom. The most Orwellian part of the law under “Subtitle G – Protection of United States Aviation System From Terrorist Attacks,” contains “Section 2171. Provision for the Use of Biometric or Other Technology,” which calls for the creation of a system that can automatically analyze “the distinct physical or behavioral characteristics that are used for identification.” First, think about how much the government would need to know about you to identify you by your behavior. Secondly, such an automated system would be based on photographic analysis. Look around your town or city; how many closed-circuit “security” cameras are now in service for your protection? One of these cameras taped a truck that caused an accident that involved one of my daughters. After the driver of the truck fled the scene, the Tuscaloosa police said they were not able to use the information on the camera to determine his license plate number (despite having three of the seven digits thanks to a concerned citizen). I assume the new biometric system similarly would be used only against “undesirables” and not those who are part of the elite structure.

One of the central features of the Act appears to be simply annoying, that is, the proviso that all US citizens entering the country must now carry a passport even when entering Canada and Mexico which we never had to do before. These are our two partners in NAFTA. Compare this to the European Union, which, in a historic step, dropped the requirement for EU citizens to carry their passports between members states. However, there are far more troubling aspects of this law than inconvenience. First, “Section 3001. Eliminating the `Western Hemisphere’ Exception for Citizens,” paragraph 5 contains the idea that only the Secretary of Homeland Security can determine what documents might be substituted for the passport. That is, an appointed bureaucrat, not an elected representative (not even the president), has the power to determine what identification papers we must carry. A further paragraph in the same section tells the US citizens exactly who is in charge of them – a bureaucrat:
“( (2) LIMITATION ON PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORITY- Beginning on the date that is 90 days after the publication described in paragraph (1)(B), the President, notwithstanding section 215(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1185(b)), may not exercise the President's authority under such section so as to permit any citizen of the United States to depart from or enter, or attempt to depart from or enter, the United States from any country other than foreign contiguous territory, unless the citizen bears a document (or combination of documents) designated under paragraph (1)(A).
( (3) CRITERIA FOR DESIGNATION- A document may not be designated under paragraph (1)(A) (whether alone or in combination with other documents) unless the Secretary of Homeland Security determines that the document--
( (A) may be relied upon for the purposes of this subsection; and
( (B) may not be issued to an alien unlawfully present in the United States”
The law gives a bureaucrat the right to limit the authority of the president of the United States.

If you think requiring a passport for US citizens traveling to Canada or Mexico is keeping us safe from terrorists, then you’re a certifiable idiot. Terrorists can get faked passports or simply cross the borders without ones. The only reason we have this absurd law is for the government to keep more control and closer tabs on their own citizens. I don’t believe the government is out to get me. As I’ve told those who actually believe the government is out to get them personally, the real horror is that the government doesn’t give a damn about them as an individual.

“Subtitle B--Identity Management Security, Chapter 1--Improved Security for Drivers' Licenses and Personal Identification Cards,” carries the germ of the “Real ID Act.” In the sections dealing with the standardization of drivers’ licenses and birth certificates and the creation of national data bases to keep control over these sources of information, authority to enforce the regulations is taken from the states and taken by bureaucrats like the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Homeland Security. The standardized identification cards and data systems were supposed to be supported by grants to the states from the federal government.

The “Real ID Act” (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:h.r.00418:) was a rider to “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005.” The act was tacked onto an appropriation bill that nobody in his or her right mind would vote against. After all, who would vote against providing aid to our soldiers or the victims of the tsunami of 2005?

A good overview of the Real ID Act is available at http://news.cnet.com/FAQ-How-Real-ID-will-affect-you/2100-1028_3-5697111.html. Once again, the power to issue and maintain the cards and databases is held by the Secretary of Homeland Security. “Homeland Security is permitted to add additional requirements--such as a fingerprint or retinal scan--on top of those [already given to the secretary]. We won't know for a while what these additional requirements will be.”

Opposition to the Real ID Act has created some odd bedfellows. For example, both the Maryland ACLU and the Republican governor of South Carolina eloquently have expressed their opposition to the Act. The ACLU points out that, “The Real ID Act creates an unprecedented national identity card and mandates that states expose the personal and private information of their residents to heightened risks of identity theft and data fraud, has a national price tag in the billions of dollars, and fails to establish real security.” (Remember the times that “secure” databases have been hacked? [http://www.time-blog.com/swampland/2008/03/obamas_passport_file_hacked.html] or [http://attrition.org/dataloss/]) Further, “The law places no limits on potential required uses for Real IDs. In time, Real IDs could be required to vote, collect a Social Security check, access Medicaid, open a bank account, go to an Orioles game, or buy a gun. The private sector could begin mandating a Real ID to perform countless commercial and financial activities, such as renting a DVD or buying car insurance. Real ID cards would become a necessity, making them de facto national IDs.” (http://www.aclu.org/privacy/gen/33952prs20080115.html)

Governor Mark Sanford argues in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, that, because the Real ID Act was a rider on an important appropriations bill, it was never debated. He cogently points out, “As a practical matter, this sensitive subject received far less debate than steroid use in baseball.” Secondly, despite the proviso to fund standardized driver’s licenses in the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act” the Real ID Act is another unfunded bureaucratic mandate. Another point he raises in his letter is the continuing power of the federal bureaucracy to coerce the states and US citizens. In this case, the requirement to carry the national identification card to board an airplane or enter a federal building is coercive. Finally, Stanton, like the Maryland ACLU, points out that there are no limits to what the Secretary of Homeland Security can require on the card or require you have to have your papers. (http://www.scgovernor.com/NR/rdonlyres/8EA29AE1-B84F-443E-B54A-3626FE5DEF57/0/Letterf033108RealIDletterDHS.PDF )

There have been some efforts to repeal the Real ID Act, but these efforts have so far failed in the House of Representatives, for example, http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/110_HR_1117.html. But, all 50 states have been given extensions (whether they asked for the extensions or simply stated their refusal to abide by the bureaucratic diktat) to comply with the mandate (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-04-02-realid_N.htm).

Coercing states to abide by a bureaucratic mandate is nothing new. “The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984,” coerced states into abiding by the rule by threatening to withhold federal highway funding unless they complied. However, there is some slight hope this idiocy might be overcome (http://www.reason.com/news/show/119618.html).

We conflate the two terms “government” and “bureaucracy.” But the government is elected and the bureaucracy is not. Unfortunately, the purpose of the bureaucracy has become to preserve the bureaucracy. (For an amusing take on this absurdity, see this clip from the brilliant BBC comedy, “Yes, Minister” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIto5mwDLxo). Max Weber must be doing summersaults in his grave. http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/TheoryWeb/readings/WeberBurform.html#Weber In this country, the elected political leaders of both political parties abdicated their governing role to the bureaucracy when they focused all their attention simply on being re-elected.

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, The Brothers Karamazov , the arch-bureaucrat, The Grand Inquisitor, triumphantly declares to Jesus, “In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us: `Make us your slaves, but feed us.’ They will understand at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together. Never, never will they be able to have both together! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless and rebellious.” When our bureaucrats make regulations to protect us from ourselves, they share the Inquisitor’s view of humanity.
We are reaching a tipping point where we are starting to lose meaningful freedoms. Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, “The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.” We should now substitute “bureaucracy” for “government.” We’re idiots if we let the bureaucrats take our freedoms.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Wonderful post! The passage from Dostoevski says it all, I think. Thank you very much for this.
--Stephen