How Many Attacks on our Liberty Can We Tolerate?

by Peter Bergel

Here’s another intrusion into the rights that most of us thought were sacrosanct in these United States: now government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This development is the result of a Portland case affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, which includes eight western states. Worse yet, the law draws a line of privilege between the rich and the poor. The rich have rights, the poor don’t.

You Have to Protect Yourself…

This case stems from a 2007 case in which Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents sneaked onto the property of a suspected pot trafficker and attached a GPS unit to the bottom of his car — as it sat in his driveway — enabling them to track him to his stash. The court decided there was no problem with this invasion of privacy because the driveway was open to strangers, like neighborhood kids and delivery personnel. If the area had been fenced and protected by guard dogs or security systems then the court would have acquiesced to the privacy of the area in question, but since it was not, the defendant was deprived of his right to privacy from government surveillance. Now who typically has fenced, protected perimeters around their property? Rich people. And whose property is open and exposed? Poor people. Thus, if you don’t enforce your own privacy, you are not entitled to any. Don’t expect the law to protect it for you.

And what’s up with the presumption that it’s OK to attach a tracking device to a car without permission or a warrant? For the details of the case, click here , but the details are less important than the way our constitutional rights are being whittled away by various government agencies who take it upon themselves to crowd the limits of the Bill of Rights.

…You Can’t Count on the Courts

One might expect the courts to whip these agencies back into line, but unfortunately, there is no constitutional right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment ensures “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.”  One could certainly argue that the spirit, if not in fact the letter, of this amendment is violated by spooks planting tracking devices on cars in secret. However, in these times when the rights of individuals are routinely sacrificed to the rights of property and paranoia about security, it is not hard to see how a literally-oriented court would give the DEA a pass on this kind of surveillance.

Your right to assemble peaceably and petition the government for redress has been compromised by the establishment of “free speech areas” into which protesters can now legally be herded, ostensibly for the protection of important political figures whose policies are being challenged by the demonstrators.

If you disrupt a public gathering in attempt to exercise your right to free speech, you may be subjected not only to removal or arrest, but also tasering.

I myself was arrested en route to my senator’s office to discuss my opinions on the war. When brought to trial, I was exonerated, but when I tried to sue those who interfered with my free speech rights, my case was thrown out of court.

If you are Muslim, your civil rights may be illegally suspended at any moment in much the same way as the rights of black people were routinely violated in the Old South.

Protect Your Legacy of Liberty

The time has come to envision a more just world – a world much like the one described by our nation’s founders in the Declaration of Independence and even the Constitution. If you have not read these documents recently, crack out a copy or look them up online.  It’s hard to believe today that these fairly radical documents are, in fact, the foundation upon which our country was built. Indeed, in 1991, a poll found that only one-third of adult Americans could correctly identify the Bill of Rights and fewer than 1 in 10 knew it was adopted to protect them against abuses by the Federal Government, and that was long before 9-11 gave the government carte blanche to violate constitutional rights in the name of national security and to pass the PATRIOT Act.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who surrender essential liberty for a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” Let’s deserve both by protecting the liberties that are our legacy, not from unlikely foreign attacks, but from the forces within our country who would deprive us of them in the name of fear. @

Peter Bergel is Executive Director of Oregon PeaceWorks and founding editor of The PeaceWorker.

2 comments for “How Many Attacks on our Liberty Can We Tolerate?

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