Wherever technology is used, it is subject to regulation.
Laws govern, constrain or otherwise regulate countless aspects of the consumer technology we use every day. We are so accustomed to this fact that we seldom question it. In many cases, technology is potentially harmful if misused. As a society, we understandably attempt to pre-empt harm to our citizens by setting guidelines for how potentially dangerous items may be used, how they may be kept and how they may be traded.
The problem with laws governing every aspect of commerce in, use of and ownership rights to a given piece of technology – from your cars, to your software, to your guns, to your phone, to your pocketknives, to your Internet service – is that quite often these laws constraining possession and operation of consumer technology are unconstitutional and immoral.
By “unconstitutional,” I mean that our government is not and should not be empowered to regulate many aspects of consumer technology it now controls. By “immoral,” I mean that it is unconscionable, in a free society, for our government to tell citizens whether they can defend themselves, through what container they should drink a beer in a bar (and whether they can smoke while doing so), what type of car they can drive, and what kind of food they may eat. All of these laws pertain to some aspect of technology (from vehicular technology to weapons technology to the technology of preparing and cooking food). All of these laws represent an unconstitutional infringement of basic human liberty and natural rights.
In a free society, governments are instituted voluntarily among human beings for one reason: to protect individual rights. When a government begins eliminating or otherwise eroding individual liberty in the name of necessity or of collective welfare, we no longer live in a free society at all, but something else. Industrialized nations throughout the world are free societies to varying degrees. The United States is arguably the freest of these; there are other nations that are at least comparable. Many of these countries, however, are arguably very controlled – that is, their citizens (or subjects) are not free at all.
We have chronicled many of these disturbing developments in Technocracy, including restrictions on YouTube content in the UK, China’s blocking of iTunes in response to a Free Tibet demonstration, the death of untraceable commerce, and President Obama’s use of technology to hector his opponents, vilify his detractors and establish his pervasive, Big Brother presence in every home in the United States.
We should care about domestic tyranny because it is upon us now. We should care about foreign tyranny because there is every possibility it will one day make its way to our own shores. It has happened before and it is happening now. Members of the United States Supreme Court, whose proclamations carry the weight of law, admit quite readily that they do look or have looked to international law to reach their opinions, despite the astonishingly extra-constitutional nature of such an act.
In terms of statist tyranny, the United Kingdom is an industrialized Western nation that is, at the global level, the equivalent of one of our bellwether states. As the UK goes, so goes the United States … eventually.
For example, in the United Kingdom, firearms owners were forced to register all of their guns. This eventually led to widespread confiscation of privately held arms. The history of the UK is the future of the United States when it comes to gun control; the forces of civilian disarmament lobby for firearms registration for one and only one reason. They hope, eventually, to be able to ban and confiscate your guns, and only a comprehensive program of registration makes it possible to do this. If you think that can’t happen here, remember that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, civilians in New Orleans were having their firearms confiscated by police simply because the police didn’t want the citizens of New Orleans to have guns.
Here’s another example: In the UK, those who possess common pocketknives are equated with thugs. The United Kingdom has incredibly strict laws governing the possession of knives. It’s so bad there that hysterical British subjects are, with straight faces, calling for bans on glass mugs in pubs. They’ve introduced the first allegedly “stab-proof” knife in the aftermath of calls to ban kitchen knives. The Obama administration, perhaps emboldened by moves like these in other nations, now seeks to use U.S. Customs to, by administrative fiat, effectively ban almost every pocketknife in the United States.
The Guardian’s Technology Blog has reported that family groups are agitating for a ban on the unfiltered Internet itself. They want to, by force of law, require compulsory filtering of all Internet service. No longer would your ISP have the option of simply providing you with access to the network of networks that is the Web. No, it would, under such a law, be forced to tell you what you could and could not view, read, and think under threat of force.
That is law, after all: the threat of force. Whether a letter informing you of an impending IRS audit or the snout of an MP5 submachine gun in Elian Gonzales’ face, the law is always backed by the threat of force. If it were not the case that men with guns would eventually show up to take you away, you would be free to break any law you wished. That is what makes the law powerful. That is what should give us pause before we grant more power to our government.
What all bad laws governing technology have in common is that they treat us all as criminals before the fact. The standard of law in a free society should not be the lowest common denominator. Law must recognize individual rights if is to protect them. If it does not, it becomes little more than the threat of force. It becomes a gun in the hand of a tyrant whose motivation is only power.