Withholding Consent

Today, upon browsing through my news links, I was greeted by an op-ed (thanks, matt2) where a former deputy homeland security adviser to President Bush was arguing that governments, of all stripes, must be allowed back doors into communications systems. It included this lovely quote:
governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe.
Nowhere in the piece does Mr. Falkenrath acknowledge any right of the citizen to keep information from the state. Instead, he makes charming statements like “no provider of information services is exempt from the power of the state” and “governmental intrusion into ostensibly private communications offends liberal sensibilities”.

Mr Falkenrath’s piece would not be so troubling if it weren’t symptomatic of a larger problem. We have long passed the point where public officials recognize any legitimate restraints on the ability of government to do whatever the hell they think is necessary. Falkenrath is applauding the actions of a repressive monarchy in forcing a Canadian company to bow to demands for data access irrespective of any sort of due process or safeguards. He also points out how many in the US government, and I’m guessing himself included, wish similar actions could be taken here. Moreover, he’s not doing this in a backroom conversation with his intel buddies. He’s doing it on the op-ed page of the New York Times. What the hell, who needs the 4th Amendment and the idea that our government is one of limited powers? Not Kenneth Falkenrath. The danger of terrorism and smugglers and human traffickers is so great and so over-whelming we must use any means at our disposal to fight them! The idea that putative public servants who swore an oath to defend the Constitution feel free to advertise publicly their open disdain for same should cause some reevaluation.

However, he’s not alone, or by any means the most severe symptom of the problem. He’s just the guy I happened upon this morning. Examples are numerous and well-documented. We go from congressmen who believe there are no meaningful limits to federal power to courts who agree and to an executive who then acts with impunity, secure in the knowledge no one else in the .gov will disagree with the means even if they object to the ends. Taken all together, I’m led to an inescapable conclusion: the government of the United States is no longer acting in my interests. In fact, most of the actions the federal government takes are detrimental to me and mine.

So, what to do? My first instincts trend towards the simple and bloody. However, absent the willingness towards same from a substantial amount of the populace, any attempt is doomed to failure. It is infeasible, for a number of reasons, to simply pack up and move elsewhere. Another glaring issue with voting with the feet is that everywhere else is worse on many significant issues. Dropping off the grid entirely poses a number of practical problems as well. I firmly maintain the belief that the best way to hide from the government in this day and age is to get lost in the noise. If your data trail looks like every other data trail, you’re not going to get noticed. A lack of a data trail is just as noticeable, in some aspects, as an unusual data trail. So far the only answer I’ve reached is to hide in plain sight and figure out how to avoid getting the grosser excesses of the state aimed in my general direction.

I don’t have answers for some questions, like how little can you comply with the government and still stay off the radar. I also don’t know if the situation yet warrants something more active than civil disobedience and general non-compliance. I’m still working through some of the issues and practicalities, but in general terms, I’m withholding my consent. The government is illegitimate and can piss off.

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