Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When the Government Promises It Won’t Abuse Its Powers, It’s Lying

by Kevin Carson

Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne used to point out (“The 7 Vital Principles of Government”) the obvious truth that, no matter what promises are made by the sponsors of a law you favor, and no matter what their stated rationale for it, once it’s passed it will be interpreted and enforced by people utterly unaccountable to you. And it will most likely be interpreted by people you don’t like, to serve the interests of the powerful.

In World War I the Wilson administration and legislative sponsors of the Sedition Act assured the public it would be used only to prosecute those who actively interfered with the war effort or hampered conscription — not to harass dissidents who publicly criticized the government or disagreed with the war on policy grounds. The ensuing mass arrests of left-wing dissidents under the Sedition Act, including Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, were the largest repression of dissent in American history from the Civil War to the present.

More recently, we’ve seen the abuse of RICO statutes — ostensibly passed for the comparatively narrow purpose of fighting organized crime — to suppress political movements out of favor with the government.

Now we’re seeing an especially instructive example of this phenomenon: Homeland Security’s seizure, at the behest of the music and movie industries, of the domain names of dozens of websites which were accused (but not charged, tried or convicted) of promoting copyright infringement. You just go to a URL, and in place of the former website you see a menacing Department of Justice logo. Please note that the “infringing activities” of some of the websites which were shut down consisted entirely of providing search engine results linking to torrent sites. So apparently there’s no longer even a safe harbor for those who link to alleged “copyright infringers.”

Most people who supported the USA PATRIOT Act and the creation of DHS, no matter how unjustifiably, presumably believed that those extraordinary grants of power would be used only for the extraordinary purpose of fighting genuine terror networks like Al Qaeda and preventing terrorist attacks on the United States. It should be abundantly clear now that those people were had.

Homeland Security is expanding its mission into areas totally unrelated to the ostensible purpose for which it was initially sold to the public. And it is engaging in this mission creep under the influence of powerful economic interests which are totally unaccountable to the public: Namely, Joe Biden’s friends in the MPAA and RIAA.

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