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August 7, 2008

Breaching Our Security

Tony Soltero

"To protect and to serve." The venerable slogan of police forces nationwide. And, for the most part, law enforcement performs its duties professionally, effectively and within the constitutional bounds that distinguish America from repressive, totalitarian societies, such as the country currently hosting a major world sports event.


But on those occasions when our law enforcement authorities overstep their bounds, the pushback from the public has to come swiftly and loudly, or we eventually cease to function as a free society. Because, if authorities realize that they can get away with one ever-so-subtle nudge of the envelope, it's only a matter of time before we see another one, and another one, until we do get to the point where we've become a banana republic.


The price of freedom is eternal vigilance – and that applies to our own government every bit as much as it does to foreign threats.


So, this is why the recent revelations showing that the Maryland State Police abused their power during the Ehrlich administration by spying on peace activists and death-penalty opponents (you know how these gangs of anti-capital-punishment marauders terrorize our neighborhoods) need to be confronted head-on, with full accountability for those responsible for this egregious breach of government trust.


What were the motives here? Then-police-superintendent Tim Hutchins offered a flabby excuse: "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state." This leaves open the question on how mollycoddled we must be to require "protection" from activists who preach nonviolence. So either the Ehrlich Administration believed that the median age in Maryland is four years and seven months, or something a little more sinister was going on. And probably grossly unconstitutional.


Last I checked, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the one right above the Second, for you ordinally-challenged conservatives out there – guarantees all Americans the right to speak out and peacefully assemble. If we can expect "visits" from our government authorities every time we actually exercise our inalienable rights, maybe we need to reopen the question of who really did win the Cold War.


And one would think, of course, that the right would loudly condemn these breaches of citizens' privacy, given that opposition to Big Government is a bedrock of traditional conservative thought.


But the reaction from Republicans, all too predictably, has been to defend this junk. Why? Because it happened under the watch of their golden boy, Bob Ehrlich, and to paraphrase Richard Nixon, if Bob Ehrlich does it then that means it's not illegal.


Or something.


There's nothing harder to fathom than the state of the conservative mind these days. I will say this: As much as I like Barack Obama, and as badly as I want to see him become our next president, there is no way I would give him this kind of surveillance power over me. Even if it's "for my own protection." That's nothing but totalitarian doublespeak. And if my journeys do happen to take me near a local Quaker church, don't worry – I’ll take my chances. I kind of doubt I'll get mugged.


In that vein, here's my slap on the wrist to Gov. Martin O'Malley: Pass a law banning this kind of thing. Now! No, simple "reassurances" are not enough. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – and we need legal safeguards to prevent exactly this.


And once that law is on the books, Governor, then open a full-scale investigation into these privacy abuses, and put those responsible behind bars for a few years. This was a crime against democracy, and its perpetrators have forfeited their right to freedom.


Don't worry; they obviously don't think much of the concept anyway.


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