Lese Majesty of Intrusive Laws

If we enforced all our laws absolutely, we'd all be in jail.

When was the last time you broke the law?

No, not the last time you committed a felony; most of us have never murdered anyone or done Grand Theft Auto.  Breaking any law at all is a different story: it's hard to go more than a few hours or days between violations.

Speeding?  Not using your turn signal?  Littering?  Jaywalking?  And that doesn't even cover the myriad of obscure regulations enacted by by local, state, and federal governments which can be unknowingly smashed at any time.

Why aren't we all in prison then?  Because there are only so many cops and they can be in only so many places at once.  There's a reason we call totalitarian dictatorships "police states": oppressive laws are only relevant if you have enough cops to enforce them all.  Without a cop or fink on hand to tattle, a law is a dead letter.

This inherent limitation on government power is now being removed.  Modern technology is creating a new breed of sleepless, unpaid policeman with no common sense or perspective.  No laws are changed; the laws being enforced have been around for decades, but the end result is a vastly different and deeply disturbing society.

CNN reports:

Law enforcement officers may secretly place a GPS device on a person's car without seeking a warrant from a judge, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling in California.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Oregon in 2007 surreptitiously attached a GPS to the silver Jeep owned by Juan Pineda-Moreno, whom they suspected of growing marijuana, according to court papers.

When Pineda-Moreno was arrested and charged, one piece of evidence was the GPS data, including the longitude and latitude of where the Jeep was driven, and how long it stayed. Prosecutors asserted the Jeep had been driven several times to remote rural locations where agents discovered marijuana being grown, court documents show.

Think back to the old police show Dragnet.  Sgt. Friday neither had nor needed a warrant if he wanted to follow a suspect around the City of Angels in his squad car; the perp was driving the public streets and so was Joe.

What's different here?  Again, Mr. Pineda-Moreno was driving the public streets; this time the GPS tracking device is stuck onto his car, but the result is much the same as if Sgt. Friday were tailing him.  Indeed, it's both safer and cheaper: Mr. Pineda-Moreno didn't know he was being followed and so was not tempted into a hazardous high-speed chase, and taxpayers didn't have to pay for gas and a cop's overtime.

Which is precisely the problem.  A handful of our laws must be absolute: murder is always wrong and should always be punished if at all possible.

Most of our laws, though, would utterly destroy anything resembling liberty if they were enforced thoroughly.  When was the last time you actually obeyed the speed limit?  For most people, it's the last time they saw a cop parked up ahead; an absolutely-enforced speed limit would steal hours from people's lives.

Government is far more interested in stealing dollars from the people's pockets, as TechCrunch tells us:

"Under the table" pools may be the catalyst of the next technology revolution in government. During last February's economic collapse in Greece, the normally technophobic Greek government used Google Maps and Google Earth to find people who had craftily evaded taxes by failing to declare a pool.

Now Google Earth-enabled law enforcement has come to the USA. The town of Riverhead, Long Island, taking a lesson from the Greeks, is also using Google Earth to track down about 250 "unpermitted" pools. And using the satellite imaging service has proved profitable, Riverhead officials have collected over $75,000 in fines from pool owners who never filled out the required paperwork.

Again, nothing has changed in the law; the town has required extensive red tape and expensive pool permits for decades, but only with modern technology have they been able to actually catch all the violators.

Don't have a pool?  Consider this official description of when permits are required in Fairfax County, VA:

For typical home improvement projects, this means the following require a permit: Attic pull-down stairs, Skylights...

First time installation of fixtures and appliances permanently connected to the electrical, mechanical, gas and/or plumbing system(s). This includes, but is not limited to, the following: Bathtubs, Dishwashers, Fans, attic/ceiling/exhaust, Garbage disposals, Ice makers, Laundry tubs, Lighting fixtures...

I am sorry, but I absolutely refuse to pay for a permit (and inspector!) to install an icemaker or a new garbage disposal, much less a light fixture.  It is flatly none of the government's business and none of their legitimate concern, and I have better things to do with my limited funds than support yet another government leech bearing pointless paperwork.

Fortunately, the Fourth Amendment protects us from invasive government officials who'd like to scout around on our property looking for violations.  The inspector will never know whether the light was on this wall or that ceiling the last time they were here, or whether I did or didn't have a garbage grinder in my sink.  Swimming pools, being outdoors, can be spied on from above, and obviously a whole new building can be easily detected, but the minor stuff is out of their eyesight.

As we've repeatedly argued, the technical requirements of most zoning laws are outrageously oppressive while not contributing to actual safety, but they do promote political corruption and enormously raise housing costs.  In every other aspect of human endeavor, red tape is depressing innovation and pricing useful activity out of reach.  Our only, partial protection has been the fact that police and inspectors cannot be everywhere; with new technology that is ceasing to be true.

So, should it be unconstitutional for the police to use modern technology?  Of course not; that is not the underlying problem.

The true source of the problem is that we have allowed our self-appointed masters to create countless thousands of petty rules concerning matters that are none of their business.

Get rid of the excessive rules, and police investigations of real criminals won't be a problem.  Don't, and a few minor tweaks to police procedures will make no difference.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
"So, should it be unconstitutional for the police to use modern technology? Of course not; that is not the underlying problem. The true source of the problem is that we have allowed our self-appointed masters to create countless thousands of petty rules concerning matters that are none of their business"


I absolutely hate when conservatives whine about technology being used by the cops to enforce laws more easily.

Speed cameras are the perfect example. Speed cameras make sure everyone is punished equally (no busty females can cry their way out of a ticket) and it allows cops to focus on more important crimes (like solving murders).

If the speed limits are too low, CHANGE THE BLOODY LAW. Get your friends together, go out and campaign on the weekend and get a ballot referendum in place to fix the problem.

Stop using loopholes to escape the real problem. Eventually technology will shut all the loopholes. Focus on changing the laws and technology won't matter.
September 3, 2010 7:58 AM
obviously this points out the market for counter-surveillance methods, including bug detection: sure there's always been snoopers, now we just have to find yet another RF transmitter.
is one such place.
Citizens, know your rights: thwarting the police is a moral imperative, especially since they may use the data for their own nefarious ideology or that of their politician bosses.
September 7, 2010 6:59 PM
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