My great aunt was probably the last true American. She took heart-felt umbrage when banks first had the gall to install security cameras, back in the early ‘60’s. “I don’t want anyone spying over my shoulder when I’m about my private business,” she said. It is a measure of how far we have sunk to a level lower than chickens that my great aunt’s notions strike us, not simply as quaint, but as alien.
Those were the days when Americans held to strange notions like “going about your private business in public.” If your business was private -- which it invariably was -- then it was no body else’s business, not even the government’s -- especially not the government’s.
Those were also the days when people spoke of their bankers in much the same sense and tone that they spoke of their pastors or priests. The bank was where you confided your money and it was insulting, to say the least, that your fiduciary should treat you as some sort of common criminal afoot.
Those days have been swept into the dustbins of history thanks to a people hankering for "safety" and a judiciary whoring itself to executive power.
In California v. Greenwood (1988) 486 U.S. 35, the craven lickspittles on the Supreme Court held that my great aunt had no expectation of privacy in her garbage. Having deposited one’s garbage “in an area particularly suited for public inspection and, in a manner of speaking, public consumption,” a person “could have had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the inculpatory items that they discarded.”
Of course, they had no expectation of privacy in the non-inculpatory items either since a cop can’t tell which is which until he starts pawing through the mess. The court's toss-in of the word “inculpatory” was one of those slimy sophistical tricks courts resort to when they want to add some emotional weight to an otherwise shaky argument -- in this case, the helpful insinuation that the garbage owners were guilty criminals anyways and so we needn't focus to hard on a rummage-rule that applies just as much to the anyways innocent.
Behind obfuscations for the unwary, Greenwood explained that the true reason my aunt had no expectation of privacy in her garbage was that privacy was lost once the garbage was placed “at the curb for the express purpose of conveying it to a third party, the trash collector, who might himself have sorted through respondents' trash or permitted others, such as the police, to do so.”
Entrusting garbage, the Court intoned, was no different than dialing telephone numbers; and “we doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial” (Smith v. Maryland (1979) 442 U.S. 735.) Say what ?? When was this!? 1979? Yep.
“All telephone users," the Court pronounced, "realize that they must ‘convey’ phone numbers to the telephone company, since it is through telephone company switching equipment that their calls are completed.” Having “conveyed” their numbers a third party, one can hardly complain when the third party happily conveys it to a fourth party, (government cops), on request and without any warrant. After all, the court went on, “when he used his phone, petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company and ‘exposed’ that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of business. In so doing, petitioner assumed the risk that the company would reveal to police the numbers he dialed.”
In short, if you don’t want to be exposed, lock yourself in your closet.
The Smith and Greenwood cases stand for two inter related propositions. First, that you have no privacy when you “expose” yourself or your effects to public view; and, second, that you have no privacy in things you “convey” to others even if “the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used only for a limited purpose and the confidence placed in the third party will not be betrayed.” Why throwing away a packet of old love letters is tantamount to reading them out loud in the park; and as for ringing someone up on a phone, well you might as well walk about naked. As for spy cameras in banks -- well if my great aunt did not want to be spied upon in public, she should have transacted her business by mail.....
But wait! Aren’t letters “conveyed” to a third party on the “assumption” that confidence “will not be betrayed”? Anyone who expects the Supreme Court to protect internet privacy or to prohibit the State Security Services from keeping track of international money wires, ought to check into a sanatorium to have his “assumptions” given the once over by men in white coats.
The underlying and truly stinking perversity of Smith and Greenwood is that they invert the positions of "free space" and "prisons". Your locked closet becomes the place where you are free to left alone; whereas out and open in public you are are subject to at will surveillance, just as if you were in prison.
Dissenting in Greenwood, Justice Brennan wrote, “Scrutiny of another's trash is contrary to commonly accepted notions of civilized behavior. I suspect, therefore, that members of our society will be shocked to learn that the Court, the ultimate guarantor of liberty, deems unreasonable our expectation that the aspects of our private lives that are concealed safely in a trash bag will not become public.”
Alas, the public was not shocked at all. For two months, Brennan wrote, “the police clawed through the trash that ...Greenwood left in opaque, sealed bags on the curb outside his home. Complete strangers minutely scrutinized their bounty, undoubtedly dredging up intimate details of Greenwood's private life and habits. The intrusions proceeded without a warrant, and no court before or since has concluded that the police acted on probable cause to believe Greenwood was engaged in any criminal activity.” But not a peep against this violation of privacy was heard -- not from our guardian press; not from an outraged people. On the contrary, in places like California, the people voted to overturn that state’s rule that a person’s garbage was private and beyond search absent a warrant.
Now, long after the ship has sunk, the New York Times reveals that the Government is keeping track of bank wire transfers made on what the high court will undoubtedly call "the open wires” of the telephone network. In the past several months, the press has also revealed, that the Government is keeping track of whom we mail, access or visit on the internet "highway". A feeble whine of protest arises from the so-called “liberal” flank of the political spectrum, while Thug Staat Bush and its congressional brown shirts go on word-punching offensives. Needless to say, the Times and its half-hearted allies will take all this lying down. They will palaver about the public’s right to know when they should instead excoriate the Administration and call for its impeachment en masse
The people's pipers in the press are at last getting around to questioning the so-called “excesses” of the Bush administration. But where were these folks when the Greenwood and Smith cases were handed down? In the modern world “excesses” do not happen overnight. Tipping thresholds may be reached at any moment; but modern states are huge multifarious bureaucracies. They move slowly and only after millions of memos have been written and thousands of regulations and practices put into place and practice. The destruction of our Liberties and the foundations of a police state began long ago with the Nixon Court.
For close to 40 years, repulsive creepy crawly creatures like Injustice Rankquist have been at work in the dank and dark gnawing away at the Bill of Rights and giving the State the “tools” it needed to “protect us” from crime, drugs, pornography, and now “terrorists”. Where was the press before? Where was there an outcry as, case by case, the courts drove a thousand cuts into the Bill of Rights, while a slithering Congress aided and abetted this real treason by establishing secret courts, national security exceptions and a plethora of other state privileges. Oh... no doubt the Times deemed those stories to be news “fit to print” on some back page crowded into the left margin by trendy Bloomingdale ads; but what was evidently not fit was any manifestation of outrage. Certainly nothing that would have given a voice to my aunt.
My great aunt stood with the Founders of the Republic, because she, like them, was able to see the principle involved in small things. That capacity is something lacking from the over-paid, self-adulating, pea brains in the U.S. press. It is also something lacking from a public whose only principles of action are its gluttonous wants and concocted fears. And extensive industries exist to feed both.
In a few days, we will all be subjected to nauseating spectacles of Amurkans indulging their “freedom” and “independence.” By now chronically obese denizens will drag their larded bodies to the Washington Mall to listen to loud, trashy, music and to hear Hollywood’s bimbettes du jour squeal about our great land, our great this-n-that and our great everything. The participants will hug their perpetually “at risk children”, gush over our "valianservicemenanwimin” and puff up their sagging bellies to make like a chest while they sing about living in the land of the brave. And they will do all this once they have been granted access to the fenced-off public mall after being frisked, searched, scanned, and identified by armed safety thugs in state employ.
It would be sad were it not so revolting. In the end, history will shed few tears for this country's last generations who, like the Romans of yore, have become a nation of slaves while thinking they were masters of the world.
© WCG, 2006