Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sex, Government Spying and the Death Penalty

I saw on the news last night that Colorado is about to pass a bill that would institute the death penalty for sex-offenders who have committed 2 or more crimes against children under a certain age. My first instinct is to say, "Good for Colorado!" Children are the most vulnerable of our society, and therefore should be protected with the most harsh punishments for those who would harm them. But, as with other death penalty cases recently, I can see a reason to be worried about this kind of legislation.

As this article by John Stossel reports, sexual predator laws aren't always enforced with an eye towards justice. I was once a staunch proponent of the death penalty, because I believe society has no use for a person who will willingly destroy another human life. However, you want to be absolutely certain, beyond ANY doubt, that the person you execute is the person who did the crime. With over 123 people released from death row after they were exonerated, I don't think we've reached the level in our society where a trial can guarantee that. Too many totally innocent people have been executed.

One innocent person executed is unacceptable to me. Some would say, "To bake a cake, you gotta crack some eggs." That's a pretty common response. Of course, it's also the logic of despots and serial killers. The people who share these ideas are typically the same ones who think giving up a little privacy to feel safer is logical.

Privacy is the cornerstone of freedom. The right to privacy is guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the USA. If you violate this right, certainly more crimes will be solved, but many innocent people will have their rights violated, as well. The ability to suspend any one's rights gives government a tool that lends itself to misuse.

Proving my point, ironically, is the Democrat Governor of New York, Eliot Sptizer. He pushed hard for the kind of intelligence gathering abilities that would be used against him. Whether he committed crimes or not is something the state will have to decide. My point is that the types of laws that violate privacy are harmful to democracy because the propensity for misuse is too great.

What's to stop the government from watching you work to set up a business, through your transactions, only to have the government agent steal your idea and set up his own business? He could find some arcane reason to put you out of business, while his business takes the niche you would have filled. Privacy needs to be protected, even if it means some crimes will go unseen. Democracy demands it.

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