Dogmatic Slumber

Well, it's been a while since we decided to entertain, inform, and enrage the masses via the tiny soapbox here at YPS. We have been busy. We've been paying lawyers, acquiring children, and once again attempting to find the perfect location for our palatial estate. Real life has interrupted the free content generator, as it so often does.

In any event, the current kerfuffle over what, exactly, the NSA has been doing to everyone with a Verizon account has roused us from our nap. As the scandal widens, and more and more internet traffic appears to run through the servers at the Puzzle Palace, the response has been instructive.

A common thread by serious, no doubt well-intentioned, people has been the old saw about "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear." This response, in part because it's so common and so misguided, deserves a little more in-depth discussion than my immediate knee-jerk bitter laugh.

A nice man named Harvey Silverglate wrote a book titled Three Felonies A Day. While I encourage you to read it, the basic thrust is simple. The federal criminal code, and the accompanying federal regulations, has become so overbroad, intrusive, and pervasive that you (and everyone else in America) are in violation multiple times a day. My favorite common example is to ask you to go read the labels on a bottle of Pine-Sol or Lysol and find the simple phrase "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." So, if you don't read the label on bottle of Lysol and comply with all of the instructions, you have committed a federal crime. Will you be prosecuted? Probably not, as long as you fly under the radar of the feds.

However, once you have come to the notice of one cog of the machine, you run the risk of being ground up by the various pieces working together. You cannot afford to deal with the multitude of federal agencies, each showing up to enforce their little bit of complex and arcane federal law. They will find something, and you will be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. This has happened to a number of people, and there is very little that can be done about it. All it takes is a 30 second phone call or chance meeting between personnel from different agencies with the comment "Maybe you should look at this guy..." and another agency can pile on.

So when some well-meaning naïf spouts the idea that people who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear, there's a glaring fundamental error: we've all of us, everyone, done something. Is it worth the feds time to try to harass you about? If you're Joe Average who only sends his mom baby pictures and lolcats, it probably won't happen. But what about engaging in political advocacy? Maybe you decide to form a 501 organization to oppose some governmental action? Why, it may just be time to take a look at your compliance record with all these laws and rules. If it does become expedient to target you, do you honestly think the NSA data won't find its way into the right hands in a high profile case? You have done something illegal and selective prosecution is now the name of the game.

I leave you with the cautionary tale of Joseph Nacchio. Joseph Nacchio used to be the head of telecommunications firm Qwest Communications. He consulted with his legal department and decided he needed a court order to hand over records to the feds, and at the time was the only CEO of a telecom firm to take this stance. Joseph Nacchio was subsequently convicted of insider trading and sent to jail for 6 years and was fined 19 million dollars. If you honestly think there's no connection whatsoever between these events, then there's really nothing more to say.

Except maybe this.

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