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Loss of legitimacy

There comes a point when governments lose their legitimacy.  That’s not anything you can define precisely.  I imagine it as the kind of thing that accumulates in bits and pieces until a crisis makes it all unmistakable.

The courts are toying with one of those bits and pieces right now.  The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees to Americans the right to be free from unreasonable searches by the government.  The actual text is:

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.

Obviously, the Framers and the states intended to prohibit officers of the government from watching us, searching us, performing surveillance upon us.  They wanted a country in which the government was prevented from rummaging around looking for trouble and, inevitably, finding it against perceived enemies of the state.  Limitless search and seizure power is what made the Jews hate the publicans.  It’s what made the Russians hate the Communists, the East Germans hate the Stasi, and even the Iranians hated the shah’s Savak.  Soon, it may be what makes Americans hate our government.

The link here (provided by Drudge) says a court has okayed the use of hidden surveillance cameras on private property without a warrant.  Those of you who’ve read Orwell’s 1984 know that pervasive surveillance was a central feature of the totalitarian state symbolized by Big Brother.

If you think our government will set up cameras only upon the bad guys, fine.  Just know this, that in their view, you will always be one of the bad guys.

There will come a point when a citizenry is so overtaxed, so over-regulated, so over-watched that they no longer can sustain the belief that the government’s authority is legitimate.  They suddenly see the government as a giant gang of bland but dangerous criminals whose power is all threat and no blessing.

The late James Kilpatrick attributed to Thomas Jefferson the story of an old Indian chief who put a pebble in his pouch for every grievance he endured.  When the pouch was full he went to war.  The emergence in the last decade of a near-ubiquitous environment of surveillance amounts to a handful of pebbles in the American citizens’ collective pouch.  People are tired of being filmed at Wal-Mart, filmed at traffic lights, filmed at Burger King, filmed by neighbors with security cams, filmed by critter cams as they walk through the woods, filmed at every traffic stop by a cop.  They’re tired of being unable to manage their children properly because some joker with a camera will record just enough of the scene to get everything wrong.  It’s not just creeps putting cameras in the ladies’ restroom.  It’s regular civil servants setting up cameras to watch every step you take, scan your texts and e-mails, listen to your cell phone calls.

The Fourth Amendment was already well on its way to being a dead letter.  Now a federal judge has said that the government can come on your private property and set up cameras to watch what you’re doing.

Judge Griesbach, you’ve put a lot of pebbles in that pouch with this one.  Just so you know.

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