Feedback loops of erosion of privacy and civil rights

At the RNC las week, Nikki Haley said the following:

We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central sacred rights we’re blessed with in America, the right to vote

The detail aside that there’s no constitutional right to pseudoephedrine and airtravel, this is actually an example of a pattern I’ve seen where erosion of privacy rights (both of customers and especially workers) in private business settings is then used to normalize this break of privacy to the point where it becomes acceptable for government to do the same, despite the fact that in many cases, the government would not really have a right to do so due to the restrictions the US constitution has placed on it. For example, a few months back when I was out protesting the installation of surveillance cameras by the Police throughout the downtown area, a common argument I heard (both before and during the protest) was that stores have surveillance cameras watching customers and workers, so why was it suddenly a problem when the city decided to also protect against criminals by watching people? Another example is the fact that a lot of Americans will argue for drug-testing of welfare recipients based on the fact that businesses like Walmart already demand drug-tests from prospective employees.

I think this normalization of invasion into customers’ and workers’ privacy is potentially dangerous and corrosive to a society, if it can really lead to this kind of acceptance of government invasion of privacy (as well as, of course, on its own terms. drug testing employees in jobs where it’s entirely fucking irrelevant is fucked up, and really just a manifestation of classism, a means of debasing poor people further). It’s another reason why pretending that government is the only power capable of limiting people’s freedom while completely ignoring the business sector is stupid and dangerous. Businesses, too, should have limits on just what they should be allowed to do to their customers; and especially their workers, since abuse of workers by businesses seems to be followed shortly by an expansion of that abuse to all poor people by the government.

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19 comments on “Feedback loops of erosion of privacy and civil rights

  1. Snowflake says:

    This is a similar pattern to violations of church/state separation in USA. Minor violations are justified by blurring the difference between private religious signaling and minor government religion signaling, then increasingly larger violations are justified by the smaller ones (I just realized that the last clause is textbook cognitive dissonance theory, but nevermind), and then the larger infractions are presented as evidence that the country is Christian.

  2. Jadehawk says:

    yeah, it’s definitely a kind of “wedge strategy”, but I was primarily interested in the way these things work across the private-public boundary. And I think the tricky part is that there actually are things that should be ok in a private organization that isn’t ok for the US government; on the other hand, certain rights, and the right to privacy sort of self-explanatorily belongs in that category, should not be infringed by private organizations, either.

  3. DouglasLM says:

    Another area of concern for me in the US is the administrative subpoena. These subpoena can be signed by and used by the same agency (in some cases the same agent) to access industry records containing personal information. All with out even talking to a judge. Many agency’s have very little over site or accountability for these types of subpoena. Some agency’s can not even report how many times administrative subpoena where used.
    Here is a link that talks more on this subject.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/09/04/administrative-subpoenas-subvert-4th-amendment/
    Thanks for reading

  4. Paul says:

    but I was primarily interested in the way these things work across the private-public boundary.

    This still works in the church/state separation example. You can post the ten commandments in your business all you want, so why should teachers and principals not have the same right? It’s just common sense that it’s freedom of speech to press your hangups on others, regardless of context.

  5. DouglasLM says:

    @Paul
    Teachers and Principals have the right to free speech the same as everyone else, in their home or private life. In the school is their public life payed by public funds (taxes). Putting up the Ten Commandments or Bible verses or the Koran would be a direct violation of the separation of church and state. Because state funds (taxes) would be paying for the promotion of a religion.

  6. Jadehawk says:

    Douglas, I’m pretty sure Paul agrees with you. He was just giving an example of how something that’s allowed for private business becomes so normalized that people no longer (want to) understand why it wouldn’t be allowed for governmental organizations like public schools.

  7. DouglasLM says:

    “Why shouldn’t there be prayer in school? It’s free speech right”? I here this type of argument at work a lot so I may be over sensitive. The argument takes a radical turn when I suggest that a Islamic prayer be allowed. I can’t imagine why.

  8. DouglasLM says:

    not here… hear. Auto correct is becoming my worst enema..:)

  9. Paul says:

    but I was primarily interested in the way these things work across the private-public boundary.

    You’ll note that the post was not arguing about what was legal, per se — more about how what is acceptable in personal and private spheres bleeds into justification when done in public/governmental capacities. I just wanted to note to Jadehawk that post 1 was possibly more related to her blog post than she seemed to initially think. Dealing with explanations, here, not in justifications :-).

    I definitely understand how one can see certain words and filter it into their “must be opposed” category. We all do it.

    Administrative subpoenas are something of a different beast than this bleed through discussed from private use to government use, although no less terrible for it. The government has no interest in pushing for controls on dissemination of personal information (despite Title 18 regarding PII, et al.) in a law enforcement context. Of course, even if the government’s power to do similar things is plugged, they can simply buy the information from external contractors. It should still be plugged, though, of course, and such information “sharing” arrangements banned (both buying information they aren’t allowed to gather from private companies, and “you spy on my citizens indiscriminately, and I’ll spy on yours” arrangements used to get around domestic spying requirements) .

  10. Paul says:

    Huh, I meant to quote DouglasLM there. Not sure how that happened. And I guess I wasn’t really arguing about anything, but I didn’t mean what I was saying to be taken as an actual justification, anyway :-).

  11. David Marjanović says:

    Point taken. Now let me ignore it and risk derailing the thread (temporarily, I hope):

    The detail aside that there’s no constitutional right to pseudoephedrine and airtravel

    Is there a constitutional right to vote in the US? There definitely isn’t a constitutional right to vote for president. All states + DC nowadays hold elections and use the results of those to order their electors who to vote for; but as far as the federal constitution is concerned, they could just send the Seven* Wisest Men In The Kingdom and let them vote however they pleased.

    * Or however many.

  12. Paul says:

    Is there a constitutional right to vote in the US?

    Not explicitly, no. A lot of people are surprised by that. There are various statements that voting cannot be denied based on certain grounds, but no blanket “all citizens can vote” sort of thing (and most people think nothing of it in cases where there are obvious exceptions made, such as not allowing convicted felons to vote.

    Several pieces of legislature mention “the right to vote”, but such right is never explicitly enumerated. A summary:

    Amendment 15 states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. ”

    Amendment 19 states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. ”

    Amendment 24 states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”*

    Amendment 26 states “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age. ”

    Amendment 23 allows citizens of Washington DC to vote for president (well, more specifically to vote to inform their electors who to vote for).

    Article 1 Section 2 also states that anyone who can vote for the “most numerous branch” of their state legislature can vote for the US House of Representatives (amendment 17 giving the same right for the US Senate).

    *I am curious if the more recent ID laws can be challenged as unconstitutional based on “…by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.” As ID cards are not otherwise required for day to day life, such a requirement could easily be envisioned as a tax.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Hmm. So, lots of amendments establish (by assuming it a priori) a right to vote, but not a right to vote for anything in particular (other than the House of Representatives), except for the 23rd!

    As ID cards are not otherwise required for day to day life, such a requirement could easily be envisioned as a tax.

    Iiiiiiiiinteresting.

  14. Paul says:

    Oh, and something that didn’t really hit me until I re-read the OP:

    one of the most valuable, most central sacred rights we’re blessed with in America, the right to vote

    We’re “blessed with” the right to vote? Holy crap. What is this class warfare garbage? “You should be damned happy you’re allowed to vote, now sit down and shut up before we think better of it”. And it makes it sound like this “right to vote” is somehow special to America, instead of expected in any nation that wants to appear civilized. And they say this while actively providing arbitrary barriers with the open intent of preventing citizens from voting*. I think I’m going to go vomit.

    If we’re comparing voting with pseudoephedrine and air travel, does that mean we don’t have to pay for those if we want to partake?

    * On the topic of voting (and quite offtopic here), I’m starting to think that the only way to derail the Dems’ inexorable slide to the right is for anyone who cares about sanity in government to vote Democrat. None of this “well, vote your conscience if you’re in a solid red or blue state, but vote blue if your state matters”, or abstaining because you’re pissed or not in a swing state, or whatever. Dems need to constantly pander to the right because despite a strong majority agreeing more with them, in general elections they don’t have enough of a lead to be able to risk driving off voters in the middle/right. Progressives can hardly expect them to push left when they don’t have any margin they can afford to lose hoping that more progressives turn out for the vote. Of course, this won’t help with people like Feinstein, but they should instead be challenged in the primaries.

    And while this still wouldn’t necessarily help Electoral College shenanigans, most people still kind of just shrug when the guy with 47.9% of the vote wins compared to the guy with 48.4%. The numbers are too close to really piss people off (“well, it could go either way in a recount”). I think it would be a different story if Gore had had several points on Bush, instead.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    We’re “blessed with” the right to vote? Holy crap. What is this class warfare garbage? “You should be damned happy you’re allowed to vote, now sit down and shut up before we think better of it”.

    No, you’re reading far too much into it. “Blessed” is meant literally.

    Maybe “sacred” is, too. After all, this is a Republican who probably can’t tell her idea of the Bible from her idea of the Constitution.

    And it makes it sound like this “right to vote” is somehow special to America, instead of expected in any nation that wants to appear civilized.

    Oh, a lot of US political rhetoric is stuck, if not in the 18th century, then in the 1940s (or at least the 50s when the USA was practically the only First World country, but I digress).

    That’s one reason why US politics practically never looks abroad for examples to imitate.

    Dems need to constantly pander to the right because despite a strong majority agreeing more with them, in general elections they don’t have enough of a lead to be able to risk driving off voters in the middle/right.

    Well, they do in safe Dem states, don’t they?

  16. Paul says:

    No, you’re reading far too much into it. “Blessed” is meant literally.

    I don’t think you’re reading enough into it. I took both sacred and blessed literally in my reading. I come from a rather religious background. Blessings are things that are “undeserved” and granted anyway. Such blessings could easily be removed. By the grace of god, you have the right to vote. How long until he decides that only those he favors get a vote? Obviously people in favor of legalizing killing babies aren’t the sort of people the one doing the blessing would care to bless, until they repent.

    Sacraments can also be exclusionary.

    Well, they do in safe Dem states, don’t they?

    I’ll admit with that thought I mostly had in mind presidential candidates. But even looking at Congress candidates in more homogeneous states, the Party is an entity unto itself. It cares about its own survival and dominance. As long as it’s a crapshoot either way if Repubs or Dems hold the houses of Congress, even in safe states they can’t push the envelope significantly. Attack ads will line up the rightish ones with the radicals pushing for progressivism (this doesn’t happen when it’s just Kucinich and others so much because nobody takes them seriously and they’re a small minority, not worth money to try to tar other Congressmen with — but you see it in cases like Pelosi doing something progressivish, and other Dems get attacked as being buddies with her), causing a similar issue as you get with the Presidential elections where losing the middle loses the majority (or plurality, as it goes).

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Points taken.

  18. Demonhype says:

    THANK YOU, Jadehawk, for mentioning drug testing! Not only has it spilled over from “only in safety sensitive positions” to damn near everywhere even when irrelevant, it’s also a notoriously ineffective misapplication of technology and it gives employers undue access to parts of your life and health that they have no legal right to access.

    And on top of that, you mentioned what I’ve been saying for years: it doesn’t matter whether it works, it doesn’t matter that drug testing is a scam that was forced through based on deliberately skewed data, public ignorance and moral panic (and continues to thrive based on those same things), because the real purpose was to normalize the idea that your very body is company property. Now look at the crap they’re pulling, trying to get password access to private emails and social networking sites for monitoring, asking for DNA samples from all applicants (happened at University of Akron, thankfully the ACLU put the kibash on that, but for how long?), and now we even have the corporate desire to pay based on old-school company-store standards, where your employer not only wants to be able to decide what health services you are allowed to access but in some places tries to pay people in a special card that’s only good at certain stores the company has personally approved, and it’s nearly impossible to opt out. And when I or my dad ask people “would you allow your employer to install cameras in your house?” the answer has gone steadily from “no, of course not” to “why not, I have nothing to hide!”, to my horror and amazement.

    The unspoken truth is that the whole purpose of drug testing was to psychologically extricate the people from this idea that they have any control over any part of their lives, including their own personal flesh, so they could expand that. Because once you’ve allowed your employer to enter your body for the opportunity to earn bread (or continue to earn bread), what could be more invasive? How could being electronically monitored at all times, or being restricted in the use of your own money be much worse? And on top of that, there is a definite sunk cost mentality in the defense of drug testing, in that “I took a drug test, so therefore it can’t be bad because I wouldn’t be involved in anything that was bad” sense. So many people who defend the indefensible practice have the distinctive characteristics of someone who believes you are calling them indefensibly bad people when you call drug testing indefensibly bad. They’ve normalized it to the point where people will argue against their own self-interest and rights because they are deluded into thinking they’re defending themselves against a personal attack.

    There’s that…and then there’s the fact that giving your employer a sampler platter of biological material gives them a prime chance to weed out people with health problems their insurance finds inconvenient but that they are legally unable to ask about directly. Which is the other reason they love drug testing and why it’s so universal. What employer or their insurance company would pass up the opportunity weasel around the law and avoid hiring someone with an inconvenient health problem?

    I have an entire link packet on the subject (which I will probably make available on my blog once I get it started up proper), but here are two particularly excellent workups of the failure of workplace drug testing on all levels, for those who are interested.

    Alexander DeLuca, M.D., Addiction, Pain, & Public Health website
    Workplace Drug Testing: A Case Study In The Misapplication Of Technology
    by Mark A. Rothstein – 5 Harvard. J. Law & Technology 65; Fall 1991. Posted 10/15/2002:
    http://www.doctordeluca.com/Library/PublicHealth/WPDT-MisappTech.htm

    A Critical Assessment of the Impact of Drug Testing Programs on the American Workplace
    by Alexander DeLuca, 2002-10-19 – Submitted as a Term Paper for the Human Resources Management in Health Care Institutions course, taught by Professor O’Connor, Executive Masters of Public Health program, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, NYC. Modified: 2007-05-11.
    http://www.doctordeluca.com/Library/PublicHealth/DrugTestWorkPlace2002.htm

    Drug Testing: A Bad Investment
    http://www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform/drug-testing-bad-investment
    direct pdf: http://www.aclu.org/files/images/asset_upload_file27_31386.pdf

    And again, THANK YOU for pointing that out! It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s noted that!

  19. Demonhype says:

    Sorry, that’s three workups. I forgot I plugged in the ACLU’s excellent expose on the subject as well.

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