Intellectual Ammunition: Privacy, Answering the Unanswerable

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Privacy: You DO Have Something to Hide

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

This is surely the most tedious argument in favor of government spying on innocent citizens.

And it’s not just annoying, it’s dead wrong. You probably DO have something to hide. Something that could get you in real trouble.

So says Moxie Marlinspike — former director of application security at Twitter and co-founder and CTO of Whisper Systems — in an enlightening and frightening article at Wired.com entitled “Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance.”

Marlinspike quotes James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School and former defense attorney:

“Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are ‘nearly 10,000.’”

That’s right. The federal government cannot even count how many federal laws there are. Indeed, no one knows them all.

Nevertheless, you can face severe penalties if you unwittingly break one.

Therefore, asks Marlinspike, “If the federal government can’t even count how many laws there are, what chance does an individual have of being certain that they are not acting in violation of one of them?”

Marlinspike then quotes Supreme Court Justice Breyer:

“The complexity of modern federal criminal law, codified in several thousand sections of the United States Code and the virtually infinite variety of factual circumstances that might trigger an investigation into a possible violation of the law, make it difficult for anyone to know, in advance, just when a particular set of statements might later appear (to a prosecutor) to be relevant to some such investigation.”

And if you think we’re talking about variations on things like murder, robbery and assault, think again.

Marlinspike writes: “For instance, did you know that it is a federal crime to be in possession of a lobster under a certain size? It doesn’t matter if you bought it at a grocery store, if someone else gave it to you, if it’s dead or alive, if you found it after it died of natural causes, or even if you killed it while acting in self defense. You can go to jail because of a lobster.

“If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations.

“You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.”

VIDEO: Remy Sings “Tap It: NSA Slow Jam”

Oh yeah! Reason TV presents the perfect song for this moment in history: a brilliant and hilarious music video on the NSA spy scandal, written and performed by the great comedian Remy.

“Tap It: NSA Slow Jam” manages the unusual feat of being laugh-out-loud funny and paranoia-inducing creepy at the same time. Pay close attention to the wonderful lyrics (which can be found at the same URL as the video).

Highly recommended! When you’re done laughing, share it with friends. Be aware, of course, that you’ll quite likely be sharing it with your uninvited online buddies at the NSA as well. Hope they’ve got a sense of humor.

Libertarian Party: Why Don’t Politicians Apologize When the Stock Market Goes Up?

The Libertarian Party is asking an unusual and thought-provoking question: Why don’t Democrats and most Republicans apologize to the American people when the stock market goes up?

Think about it. When the stock market drops, politicians invariably exclaim: “Thank goodness we didn’t privatize Social Security! Just look how much people would have lost in the stock market!”

But what about when the market goes… up? Imagine the potential earnings that Americans coerced into Social Security have lost because the government won’t let them control their retirement assets.

“After an almost uninterrupted bull market since March 2009 and six consecutive months of stock market gains, why haven’t politicians who are against any kind of privatization of Social Security apologized to the American people?” asks Libertarian National Committee member William Redpath.

“More than two thirds of workers pay more in payroll taxes than the individual income tax. That is money that is forcibly taken from them by the government that they could invest to build real wealth over the course of their working lives, or money that could be spent to make their lives better today.

“Instead, workers are forced into a system in which their payroll taxes are immediately given to current retirees or spent by the government in other ways.

“People should be free to keep their payroll taxes and use those funds as they see fit. If they choose to save and invest, it doesn’t have to be in the stock market. It could be in more conservative investments. However, the stock market has been the best investment over the long run, and attempts by politicians to demonize it harm the American people.”

In fact, notes Redpath — who is a licensed CPA and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) — during any 20-year period going back to at least 1926, the stock market has never had a negative return. According to Morningstar, $1 invested in a basket of small company stocks at the end of 1925 would have been worth $18,365 at the end of 2012.

Indeed, Social Security is a lousy deal for citizens in many ways, Redpath points out.

“Social Security returns are paltry at best and negative for some people. But the big enchilada that no defender of the status quo will address is this: Americans have no personal property rights in their future Social Security benefits. All Americans are beholden to future Congresses for their benefits. And, benefits can’t be passed onto their children and grandchildren, as private accounts could be,” says Redpath.

Plus, of course, Social Security is headed to insolvency, due to its Ponzi Scheme structure.

“Libertarians call for phasing out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transitioning to a private voluntary system,” adds Geoffrey J. Neale, current chair of the Libertarian National Committee. “This will remove the looming threat of insolvency while allowing everyone… to be self-sufficient and prosperous in their golden years.”

The Question Libertarians Can’t Answer… Answered

Michael Lind, progressive co-founder of the New America Foundation, recentlywrote an article entitled “The question libertarians just can’t answer: If your approach is so great, why hasn’t any country anywhere in the world ever tried it?”

Asks Lind: “Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?”

Lind presumes this is a devastating attack on the very foundation of libertarian thought. Indeed, he asks, why isn’t libertarianism “discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world?”

Of course, many libertarians realize this is not a new question at all. It’s actually quite common.

And there are many good answers to it — as libertarians promptly proved by providing them.

Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation, not only provided his own excellent answer, but did libertarians a further favor by offering links to some of the best answers.

Here are the links Hornberger offered (and a few more):

Tom Woods Reply Number 1

Tom Woods Reply Number 2

Michael Lind’s Obtuse Attack on Liberty and Libertarianism by Ronald Bailey

Michael Lind’s Bad Argument Against Everything by W.W. Houston

Freedom: The Unfolding Revolution by Jonah Goldberg

Why are there no libertarian countries? by Matt Mitchell

Michael Lind’s Revisionist Libertarian Smear by Ben Domenech

Three Challenges to Libertarian Populism by Ben Domenech

This is just a sampling. There are many other worthwhile and insightful responses on the web.

As libertarianism continues to gain ground, such challenges will be more common. It is vital that libertarians have effective, friendly and persuasive responses. These links offer important information and arguments to let you craft your own answers.

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Intellectual Ammunition is written by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he has been a Finalist for the Mencken Awards, given by the Free Press Association for “Outstanding Journalism in Support of Liberty.”

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About the author: James W. Harris

James W. Harris is the editor of the Liberator Online. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he has been a Finalist for the Mencken Awards, given by the Free Press Association for "Outstanding Journalism in Support of Liberty."