Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Slippery Slope: The Authoritarian State

When is a police checkpoint not a checkpoint? When it is simply the police forcing you to pull over so that a private company can ask you to participate in a "survey," which happens to include the giving of your blood and saliva.

This is going on all over the country; for example:
Fort Worth TX:
Reading, PA:
St. Louis, MO:

It was initiated by a government agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Its supposed purpose is to gain statistical information about people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They hired a private company, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation to implement the survey, which then employs the services of local police. The police flag down cars at random and direct them to pull over. Then they are approached by the survey people, pressured to take part in the survey, and offered money for participating.

The issues with this are numerous, and all are disturbing. In spite of the process being explained as "voluntary," the mere presence of police, in uniform and with lights flashing, provides an air of authority and intimidation. Coupled with high pressure persuasion and money incentives, many citizens will go along without argument. And that's a shame because the very idea of a government agency collecting bodily fluids of innocent citizens is deeply disturbing.

If we have learned anything in the last few years, it is to be deeply skeptical and suspicious when a government agency tells you that it is not collecting information on citizens, or that the information it has collected is guaranteed to be anonymous and secure. Yeah, right.

But even if the motives of the NHTSA are exactly as they say, and even if the information collected by the PIRE is totally anonymous, programs like this have a way of expanding beyond their original mission parameters, i.e. "mission creep." Consider the possibility of one more catastrophic domestic terrorist incident occurring, resulting in checkpoints becoming every-day occurrences, and the submission of bodily fluids for DNA samples no longer voluntary but required. Consider the possibility of your picture being taken without your knowledge, or your license plate being recorded, and that info then being linked to the DNA from your saliva sample. Now you are indisputably identified and inserted into a national database. Now you can be tracked, your cellphone tapped, e-mail and internet activity recorded, bank and charge accounts hacked, etc. And they will be justified in doing it, simply by saying that you might be a terrorist, or a drug dealer.

Now consider the ever increasing militarization and aggressiveness, coupled with recklessness and incompetence, that has become so typical of law enforcement in this country today:

The increasingly brazen violence of police in reacting to the most innocuous incidents has become prevalent, virtually normalized:

Join that with the vastly expanded technological capabilities that police departments have acquired as it trickles down from the military and national intelligence agencies, often paid for by grants from Dept. of Homeland Security. For example: the Indiana State Police recently spent $373,995 for a device that could allow authorities to capture cell phone data, and they won't tell anyone anything about it. Police officals say that such secrecy is essential to thwart terror attacks and fight crime. You got a problem with that?

This is a recipe for disaster: the total loss of civil liberties and the emergence of a modern police state.

Are we there yet? In the larger view of history, we are not anywhere near the catastrophic levels of say Germany or Russia in the early to mid-20th century. But we are also in a different era, in which the public has been conditioned, step by step over the last 12 years, to accept such a trend as necessary and even desirable. This is the modern way of achieving authoritarian rule: not through brute force, but more subtly, step by tiny step.

It takes a loud indignant public outcry to force such changes to be rolled back. And it can be done. But the struggle continues because those who have acquired power most certainly will not give up that power without a fight.

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