Civil Liberties 101: No, They Can't Watch You

Civil Liberties 101: No, They Can't Watch You

Feds Consider Gun Show Spying," we detailed how an employee of the Phoenix office of the Drug Enforcement Agency proposed using license plate scanners to gather information on gun show attendees. Even the American Civil Liberties Union was alarmed about the idea, which government mouthpieces predictably minimized as the idle musings of a low-level bureaucrat.

That post got lots of responses, many of them properly defiant, but far too many, in my mind.

Those who expressed indifference took two tacks.

First were those who simply assume it has always happened and what can you do about that? What you can do about it is demand it stop. We have this thing called the 4th Amendment, and it reads as follows:


"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."


There is nothing "reasonable" about using a machine that scans the license plates of every single car at a gun show and puts that information in a database for unknown future use. If the BATF wants to follow some known suspect into a show and keep him under surveillance, that's probably alright. But to turn everyone attending a show into a suspect? Unconstitutional.

The more worrying response was, "Well, if you aren't doing anything illegal, you don't have anything to be afraid of."

This is the rationale for every breach of civil liberties ever made. If you're law-abiding, the argument goes, you have nothing to fear. You may be law-abiding now, but what if the law changes? It's OK to buy an AR and a case of ammo today, but what happens if one day it is not? And the police have your license plate scanned and in a handy database?

Now, I like a Molon Labe T-shirt as much as the next man, but I'd like some options short of civil war if the wrong group gets elected. The best way to be sure Dianne Feinstein doesn't come around telling you to hand it in, Mr. & Mrs. America, is if she can't find you.


Here's a good public policy test. Anytime the government unveils a new capability, piece of equipment or policy in the name of "keeping us safe," ask how you'd have liked it in the hands of the Gestapo or the NKVD. If you wouldnít, maybe it shouldnít be in the hands of the BATF or the DEA or the FBI. Counting entirely on the state's good intentions is putting your head in a noose.

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