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You Break the Law Every Day … Without Even Knowing It

Washington’s Blog [1]
October 22, 2013

Wired notes [2]:

James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School and former defense attorney, notes [3] in his excellent lecture on why it is never a good idea to talk to the police:

Image: Do you break the law?

Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are ”nearly 10,000.”

If the federal government can’t even count how many laws there are, what chance does an individual have of being certain that they are not acting in violation of one of them?

As Supreme Court Justice Breyer elaborates [4]:

The complexity of modern federal criminal law, codified in several thousand sections of the United States Code and the virtually infinite variety of factual circumstances that might trigger an investigation into a possible violation of the law, make it difficult for anyone to know, in advance, just when a particular set of statements might later appear (to a prosecutor) to be relevant to some such investigation.

For instance, did you know that it is a federal crime [5] to be in possession of a lobster under a certain size? It doesn’t matter if you bought it at a grocery store, if someone else gave it to you, if it’s dead or alive, if you found it after it died of natural causes, or even if you killed it while acting in self defense. You can go to jail because of a lobster.

If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.

And that’s just federal laws.

Crazy State Laws

Here is a small sample of state and local laws which are still [6] on the books today [7]:

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

It is illegal to sell toothpaste and a toothbrush to the same customer on a Sunday, in Providence

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Do you imagine that it is possible for you to go through life without violating a federal, state or local law?   It’s impossible.

As Stalin’s notorious chief of secret police famously said [8]:

Show me the man and I will find the crime.

NSA Spying Can Trap You In Suspected Wrongdoing

Top NSA whistleblower William Binney – the former head of the National Security Agency’s global digital data gathering program – has repeatedly explained that just because you “haven’t done anything wrong” doesn’t mean you can’t be severely harmed by spying:

The problem is, if they think they’re not doing anything that’s wrong, they don’t get to define that. The central government does.

Binney explains that the government is storing everything, and creating a searchable database … to be used whenever it wants, for any purpose it wants [9] (even just going after someone it doesn’t like).

And he notes that the government will go after anyone who is on its enemies list:

If you ever get on their enemies list, like Petraeus did, then you can be drawn into that surveillance.

Similarly, Edward Snowden said:

Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude … to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody – even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.

[If people don’t oppose the surveillance state now] it will be turnkey tyranny.

Remember, it’s not just the NSA which is spying on your. Numerous government agencies are spying on all of your data, and sharing that information with federal, state and local law enforcement, the drug enforcement agency, the IRS and many others [10]. So if any of those agencies thinks – rightly or wrongly – that you might have broken a law, they might target you.

Get it?

Mass surveillance is incredibly dangerous … and no one is immune.