A Rant about Privacy

No Trespassing -- sign common in the USA

The United States has no explicit principle of privacy. We have freedom of association, speech, and religion. But privacy? Nope.

I think that's wrong. I believe people have a fundamental right to privacy. One of the greatest freedoms is the freedom to be let alone.

The Clipper chip public relations fiasco has put a spotlight on these issues. That's a good thing. What's not such a good thing is some of the things that have been uncovered.

Here's a little deduction for you. Part of the NSA's job is to monitor overseas communications. Email certainly falls under their umbrella. But that doesn't matter to you - you're sending Internet email from Kansas to Colorado. Or does it? There's no way of knowing the route of that mail. It could pass through India or Germany. And the NSA will scan it for suspect words. You can't assume that any email will not be read by other eyes than the intended recipient.

In a nutshell: there's no such thing as electronic privacy without strong encryption that is publicly available for review (unlike Clipper's Skipjack algorithm).

There's more to this world than just electronic privacy, however. Try this on for size: a government agent enters an apartment on an expired warrant and finds two unmaried people making love in a bedroom. One is arrested and tried. The U.S. Supreme Court holds the arrest and conviction legal.

Sound a little farfetched? It happened in this nation: the case is Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986. You might recognize this as the famous case that upheld Georgia's anti-sodomy law. Why the case wasn't thrown on Fourth Amendment grounds I don't know. But it's darn clear that the law of this land does not hold the private life of individuals above the law.

Should this be the case? Isn't it the duty of government to prevent crime (say, blowing up a federal building) before it happens? Yes, it is; but the nature of this crime poses no threat to society. Georgia's anti-sodomy is the worst kind of law: a moral regulation that denied the fundamental right of people to associate and act in a manner that has no repercussions on other people. Consensual sodomy and prositution are victimless crimes: no one is hurt. If part of the role of government is to prevent the actions of one group from harming another, what does that have to do with these "crimes"?

In his dissent to Romer vs. Evans, Scalia likens homosexuality to polygamy. Several territories made polygamy illegal to qualify for statehood, and that language was written into state constitutions (he cites Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah). He uses this to argue his case for legal discrimination against homosexuals.

What Scalia doesn't (or won't) understand is why the analogy is bad: government has no right to regulate the bonds and private actions between individuals. If people want to be polygamous, heterosexual, polyandrous, celibate, homosexual, monogamous, bisexual, or flaming purple pansexual it is no business of the government, and it should never have gotten in the business of regulating it in the first place!

It's really simple, folks. If what you're doing doesn't affect other people, it's no business of the government. A debate rages in this country about assisted suicide/voluntary euthanasia/mercy killing. Simple! It's a contract between two people that affects no one else. Legal. Working on a wildfire gene lab in your basement can affect other people. Illegal. Making love to someone(s) in any number of creative, beautiful or perverse ways: private and thus legal.

The subject is privacy. What are your thoughts? Who do you want reading your mail?

Last updated 2 June 2000
All contents ©1996-2002 Mark L. Irons

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