Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Making the Internet easier to police

Posted by metaphorical on 13 February 2007

I find myself looking for a good working definition of a police state. Wikipedia’s isn’t bad:

In a police state the police are not subject to the rule of law in an emergency and there is no meaningful distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.

What occasioned this lexicographical search is a story last week, “GOP revives ISP-tracking legislation.”

All Internet service providers would need to track their customers’ online activities to aid police in future investigations under legislation introduced Tuesday as part of a Republican “law and order agenda.”

Employees of any Internet provider who fail to store that information face fines and prison terms of up to one year, the bill says. The U.S. Justice Department could order the companies to store those records forever.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, called it a necessary anti-cybercrime measure. “The legislation introduced today will give law enforcement the tools it needs to find and prosecute criminals,” he said in a statement.

Of course, we could also arm the police with and armored personnel carriers, nuclear-tipped rocket launchers, and attack helicopters. Surely there’s at least one criminal out there who can’t be caught if the police aren’t given all the weapons of a modern cavalry division. So what sorts of evil-doers are we talking about here?

Supporters of the proposal say it’s necessary to help track criminals if police don’t respond immediately to reports of illegal activity and the relevant logs are deleted by Internet providers. They cite cases of child molestation, for instance. Industry representatives respond by saying there’s no evidence that Internet providers have dragged their feet when responding to subpoenas from law enforcement.

Child molestation? We’re apparently going to abandon the entire Internet as a haven for privacy and free speech to crack an indeterminate, perhaps miniscule, number of child molesters. I don’t mean to diminish the consequences of child molestation in any way, but will we actually avert enough of them to justify the legislation being contempated? I not only doubt it, but I doubt the sincerity of those who wantonly trigger the natural fear of every parent for the safety of their children.

Terms like “child molestation,” “pornography,” “cybercrime,” and “cyberterrorism” are catch-phrases intended to evoke a sense of evil, without offering the listener any genuine sense of a danger that merits a rational response. They are the criminal-code, homeland-security versions of what Orwell describes as the problem of “meaningless words.”

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader.

Proponents of this legislation cannot provide any kind of analysis of actual patterns of criminality that will be ameliorated by legislation of this kind. They cannot provide any sense of proportionality, a weighing of the benefits and losses of turning the Internet into a police state.

There’s that phrase again. I, for my part, can’t be so cavalier in throwing around potentially meaningless phrases. Hence the lexicographical search.

Back in 2002 Rep. Ron Paul took up the question, “Is America a Police State?” Paul is not exactly a poster child for Bleeding Heart Liberalism—he’s a libertarian Republican from Brazoria county in Texas. See if this sounds at all familiar:


Our government already keeps close tabs on just about everything we do and requires official permission for nearly all of our activities.

. . .

Terror and fear are used to achieve complacency and obedience, especially when citizens are deluded into believing they are still a free people. The changes, they are assured, will be minimal, short-lived, and necessary, such as those that occur in times of a declared war. Under these conditions, most citizens believe that once the war is won, the restrictions on their liberties will be reversed. For the most part, however, after a declared war is over, the return to normalcy is never complete. In an undeclared war, without a precise enemy and therefore no precise ending, returning to normalcy can prove illusory.

. . .

It may be true that the average American does not feel intimidated by the encroachment of the police state. I’m sure our citizens are more tolerant of what they see as mere nuisances because they have been deluded into believing all this government supervision is necessary and helpful- and besides they are living quite comfortably, material wise. However the reaction will be different once all this new legislation we’re passing comes into full force, and the material comforts that soften our concerns for government regulations are decreased. This attitude then will change dramatically, but the trend toward the authoritarian state will be difficult to reverse.

One Response to “Making the Internet easier to police”

  1. ClaireDePlume said

    there is no doubt in my mind that cicero was correct. the enemy still lurks. lurks? yes and populates prodigiously under our noses too, all the while as our attentions are deftly diverted… to the evils of government perhaps? or some other soup of the day, any one equally as devoid of any soulfully nutritious substance.

    too many of us are being spoon-fed empty bone meal made from the skeletans of imaginary beasts.

    however.

    are we willingly becoming myopic optimists with a taste for the evil which lurks behind every dark corner of our minds? it is all too easy to succumb to that slippery slope of delusion; this in part to this grand web of (mis-)communication we weave amongst us the faceless, voiceless majority – all encouraged to do so because it’s human nature to obsess and in so doing, manufacture our own over-wrought hysteria. we are being turned on ourselves, and deftly too.

    there are well-placed attacks on our perceived freedoms everywhere beginning inside the most bedrock of institutions. from the bedroom, where the art of negotiation is lost and requires governmental intervention, to the schools imprinting government approved slop on maleable minds, to churches programming with insidious mind-numbing drivvle, to mass media when not in the service of propagandizing for it’s boss the evil government, glamorizing talentless trailer trash with money, to impotent leaders whose vacuous glazes focus on self-aggrandizement and self-fulfilment as they marshall the media to do their dirty work, we are relentlessly assaulted on a multitude of levels. from gender confusion to national disunity to global detestation, we are being led by the nose. and quite compliantly too.

    we mimic in monotone assent as we strive for more rights, more material or pharmaceutical placebos, more voice, mmore freedoms – all at a cost i might add, and all of this in an impotent effort to soothe our uneasy souls. and into this unrest, we are presented with the soup of the day in the guise of formidable enemies. yesterday it was moslems, the repugnant anti-christ in the east. today it is the freedom givers-come-stealers who have latched upon key positions in government for the sole purpose of furthering their give and take candy agenda. tody it is to steal the voice of the public.

    perhaps this is aimed to manipulate a knee-jerk reaction to launch a global attempt at unity of the herd? as a matter of fact, it was preached in a sermon at a church service i attended not too long ago. and like automatons in monotone acquiescence, the congregration regurgitated the appropriate responses. so here is how the plan unfolds to promote a hegelian dialetic… from social backlash rooted in perceived losses of imaginary freedoms, then galvanizing the bedrock divisions at the sexuauality level with gender wars, exaserbated by breeding pawns in the form of ridiculously dummed-down children, followed then by a glazed candified peace with a faux unity. at last relieved and rejoicing, there we will all be; well-sedated, well-placated, all equal, seething, and silenced by our evil overlords. what better climate could there be to distract us with even greater escalations of anxieties and greater terrors? and all the while, the conspirators who really rule the roost in this globe will get on with the business of manipulating the world, it’s resources and it’s people to their own ends.

    call me hysterical, but isn’t it time we stop observing, whispering, seething… and DO something…?

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