Bill of Rights (void where inconvenient)

Strap on the safety belts and secure your loved ones, it’s time for another State of the Union chat with bitter old Uncle wonko.

A guy who could easily have been me had his home raided by the FBI and the Secret Service last week. They confiscated at least nine of his computers as well as pretty much everything else he had that looked even vaguely new-fangled or technologickal (including his X-Box). He’s suspected of being in some way involved (directly, indirectly, or quasi-possibly-mayhap-hypothetically-almost-sorta directly) with the copying of the Half Life 2 source code last year.

The agents who searched his home and seized his property did so with a very broad warrant, which was authorized by a judge who was convinced that there was clear probable cause to trod on this man’s rights—an action that is permitted by our Bill of Rights only under very narrow circumstances.

Allow me to list the most specific criminal activities described in the warrant, along with my own personal level of guilt for each of these apparent crimes:

Looks like I’m guilty of crimes merely because I’ve visited Valve’s website and sent them email. Whoops, if you just clicked on that link, you’re guilty too. Call the Feds! Find a judge! They’ve apparently got probable cause to seize all our computers and take us to court.

All kidding aside, I’m actually more than a little worried. Now, I’ve never downloaded or even seen the leaked Half Life 2 source code, but like many gamers, I was shocked and fascinated by the news of its leakage. As a result, I spent a fair amount of time reading articles, forum postings, Usenet messages and other such things relating to the leak. I visited many websites and interacted with many people who did have the source code. For all I know, some of the people I interacted with may have been directly responsible for the leak. In the FBI’s eyes, this apparently makes me an accomplice, regardless of my professed disgust with those who actually committed the crime.

Today, I found myself thinking about how I could ensure that my personal files don’t contain any potentially incriminating information, just in case someone with a badge decides they want my hard drives. A good solid first step is to make sure I don’t knowingly possess this information; that’s easy. But it would be nearly impossible for me to be absolutely certain that there is nothing anywhere on my hard drives that could incriminate me. Somewhere, if someone looks hard enough, they will find the IP of a Valve server or a cached website or something that fits their definition of contraband. So, even though I know I’ve done nothing illegal, I must take steps to avoid even the appearance of guilt. Yet in so doing I create the appearance of guilt, because why would an innocent person have anything to hide?

The fact that I am having these thoughts—and that they aren’t “what if” thoughts but “when” thoughts—indicates to me that our government has failed. The Bill of Rights no longer serves to protect the rights of the people; it is now merely an obstacle that the government strives to surmount. “Our” government has become “the” government and “we, the people” are now “you, the people”. The government is above and we are below, every one of us nothing more than a potential hindrance to the continued existence and well-being of the government.

We are not people anymore, we are problems. When this country was formed, government was the potential problem, the obstacle, the suspect who was guilty until proven innocent. The idea was that a government of, by, and for the people would not be something the people feared, but something that feared the people. The government existed at the will of the governed. Now the tables have turned, and the governed exist merely to be governed, while the government exists merely to ensure that we do not cause problems.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of encrypting to do.