On the Other Hand...

The War on Privacy

by Jim Davies

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to say "I've nothing to hide, so what's all the fuss about?"

We're in a war, folks. We didn't start the war, a whole lot of us don't even know it's going on, but it is; and in a war, anyone has a whole lot to hide if he or she is going to survive - especially if he or she is going to win.

Of course, it's quite true that in a free society, to which America quite well approximated for her first century or so, if one was honest and well disposed to one's neighbors, there was very little one needed to hide. One had then a good assurance that except for a small criminal element, if he left other people alone they would leave him alone. Alas, that's no longer true.

As governments, over time, grow more and more intrusive there comes a need to hide things. Take the Nazis, for example, in the 1930s; and suppose you were one of those good and honest Germans who reckoned that the Jewish relocation laws were bad laws and should be resisted - that, in fact, you were going to accommodate some disposessed Jews at home as your guests.

You would be perfectly honest and upstanding, yet you'd have a very great deal to hide! - and if the Gestapo came to your door and asked if you had any guests you would find yourself telling deliberate lies. You might never have thought you could be a liar, but now you'd be fibbing like a pro.

And you'd be perfectly correct (and very brave!) to do so. You would be resisting a thoroughly evil force, an unjust law.

We are, unfortunately, surrounded by unjust laws today - not, so far, quite as bad as the Nuernberg race laws, but bad anyway - and so the question of whether or not to obey them becomes immediate. And of course, if we choose to do the moral thing instead of obeying them, then privacy becomes vitally important.

Moral Test

Who's to tell, whether a law is just or not? - what standard can be applied?

Each will have his own, but here's one good start: does it conform or not to the plain language of the Constitution?

One of the very wicked lies government has told here, over the years, is that only the Supreme Court can decide a question like that. Not true; it can and should be decided by every jury considering every case, and by every citizen considering any law. Recall the first three words of the US Constitution!

I've been doing that for a few years, and laws which actually conform to the Constitution are in my opinion the very rare exception, not the rule.

Another suggestion would be to use a widely-honored moral standard such as the Ten Commandments. Take for instance "Thou Shalt Not Kill", and ask whether the Draft, or Registration for it, or the waging of any war not strictly defensive is in any way reconcilable with that standard.

If not, then virtually the whole of the present military establishment is out of order, and refusal either to pay for it or to serve in it is honorable and proper. To get away with that, however, requires an immense degree of privacy!

The same could be reasoned from "Thou Shalt Not Steal", bearing in mind the obvious fact that all taxation is theft, and that the tax system cleverly makes most of us occasional beneficiaries of the theft as well as its victims. Like most folk I find taxes terribly damaging, but their worst aspect by far is the use to which they are put. I seriously believe that if government were to take just as much tax money as it does today but simply pour that $2.5T/yr down a sewer, we'd be significantly better off; for there would be no money to pay their agents, who wreak such havoc with our ability freely to replace it.

So, clearly, if one is to resist laws on such simple moral grounds as these even to a small degree, one has a vast amount to hide and privacy therefore becomes a highly central issue. Where or how can we take cover?

Computer Files

It's not easy! - for already, your name and mine is recorded on dozens of computer files to which government people have access; and to make that access easy, we've all swallowed the lie that we need a "social security" number. Computers can work much more easily with unique numbers than they can with variably-spelled names and frequently changing addresses and descriptions.

Some people who have decided to resist government's obscene laws in a full and serious way have had to go "underground" - to use false IDs, change their appearance, disappear, use only cash. Note, these are not people who ever hurt their neighbors; just those who decided not to obey government any more. I salute them, for they are some of America's greatest heros.

Others - many millions of them, if the IRS is to be believed - have simply stopped filing tax returns, which are of course a primary source of trace information for government agents, giving them a full annual snapshot of who and where we are, conveniently indexed with the SS#. Note that if any of them want to pay taxes without filing, nothing stops them sending Uncle Sam a Money Order anonymously; this is about privacy, not necessarily money.

And others yet have decided to manage without a bank account; for those too are keyed with the SS# (try opening one without it!) and your local friendly banker will reveal your account details to any government agent who walks in and flashes, not a Court Order, but just an internal administrative demand.

This, folks, is 1997, not 1984. Perhaps Orwell's timing was off by 13 years.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 189

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