Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist who forged the “communitarian” movement two decades ago, reveals the bankruptcy of that view when it comes to civil liberties when he defends the government being able to track us on our cell phones and with GPS units without a warrant.
The Supreme Court is shortly hearing a legal challenge to this authority and Etzioni does what authoritarians always do in such situations — invokes a fictional boogeyman that must be stopped.
According to national statistics for 2010, less than half (47%) of violent crimes committed in this country are “cleared” (that is, suspects are arrested, charged, and turned over for prosecution) and only one out of five (18%) criminals who commit nonviolent crimes (such as burglary) are caught and tried. For obvious reasons there are no such statistics available for terrorists, and the fact that there was no successful attack in the U.S. over the past 10 years tends to make us complacent.
Oh, of course. We’ve become complacent about stopping terrorism. That’s why Congress has repeatedly extended the Patriot Act, given total immunity to telecom companies and pretty much shredded the 4th amendment. It’s why the NSA can now record pretty much every phone call, email and text message made by anyone to anyone in the entire country without a warrant and the public doesn’t seem to give a shit. It’s why we’ve spent a couple trillion dollars or more on the war on terror. Because we’re too complacent. What freaking world does this guy live in?
And speaking of the 4th amendment, listen to this idiotic argument:
To argue that the preceding data show that the government should be given some more leeway is not a violation of the Constitution, but directly sanctioned by it. Unlike the First Amendment, which is worded in absolute terms — “Congress shall make NO law” — the Fourth Amendment bans only unreasonable searches. That is, it recognizes that there is a whole category of searches that are fully legitimate and violate no one’s rights.
Of course it recognizes that some searches are legitimate. It couldn’t possibly be otherwise. But it sets up a very clear standard for when the government can engage in a search — when they show probable cause and get a warrant. The fact that there is a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate searches is irrelevant; the fact that the 4th amendment prescribes a safeguard to define that difference is what matters. But Etzioni wants to do away with that safeguard here.
So pray tell, how will we know that this power is only being used for terrorist suspects? We know that the use of sneak and peek warrants, which were also sold to us as an important weapon in the fight against terrorism, has been almost exclusively used for non-terrorism investigations. Less than 1% of the time they are used in terrorism investigations; 99% of the time they’re used on drug cases.
As to what is reasonable, it obviously changes with the circumstances. Given that criminals can use freely all the new technologies — including of course GPS trackers, smartphones and spyware — it seems eminently reasonable that the police should also be able to use some of these, especially in public spaces, in which people have no expectation of privacy (or at least should not have one).
Um. No. Criminals can’t use GPS to track people or put spyware on their computer without breaking the law. The solution to that is not to give the government the authority to break the law.
And Etzioni says we should give them this authority as long as the promise to use their powers only for good:
If the police put GPS devices in all the cars on the road, or even only in one out of every thousand, cops would be buried under an endless flood of data points — among which suspects would be lost.
At the same time, the police should be required to file reports after the fact about their use of GPS trackers. If it turns out that they are employed too often or to track people who are, say, political activists, the police should be reprimanded and if they persist, elected officials (say, a city council) should set limits on the use of this and other crime-fighting technologies and punish those who abuse them.
No, no, no. City councils don’t have anything to do with this, it’s a federal constitutional issue. And no, I don’t want to see reports after the fact. I want to see evidence presented before the fact to establish that the use of that technology is justified. That is what the 4th amendment rightly demands.
Someone tell me again why this buffoon is taken seriously.