Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ashes of american flags

i heard about this yesterday on npr's (well, american public media's) marketplace...seems that mothers against drunk driving are advocating for ingition interlock devices aimed at reducing the incidence of drunk driving. though madd's stance is for devices to be mandatory on cars owned by convicted drunk drivers, a reresentative from the insurance institute for highway safety (iihs) actually said that sobriety-check devices should be in all cars.

two things about this are unsettling -- first, to mandate devices on convicted drunk drivers sends the signal that the convicted are thus no longer entitled to the presumption of innocence. this is much like the laws enacted in many cities and towns that convicted sex offenders must register and announce their presence in a neighborhood, and/or that they cannot live within some proscribed distance from schools or playgrounds.

i know that convicted drunk drivers tend to be recidivst. however, there is some evidence that expedited treatment results in lower rates of recidivism. there are similar findings for sex offenders. in other words, treatment, not stigmatization and scarlet letters, are what a free society should demand of convicted criminals.

relatedly, i was troubled by an assertion made in the marketplace story by susan ferguson of iihs that all cars should have sobriety check devices. is it just me or does this violate a fundamental tenet of american society, that of presumed innocence? the country was founded on such priniciples specifically as a reaction to the encroaching police state of 18th century british colonial rule, principles which date back 5 centuries from that time to the magna carta.

ultimately this all comes back to (for me, anyway) the erosion of civil liberties we've seen with the enactment of the military commissions act and the proposed legislation to legalize the warrantless (and thus illegal) domestic wiretapping currently being conducted by the nsa with the full approval of the president. proof of how pervasive (and silly) domestic spying activities by the government have become is illustrated in a series of reports foia'd by the aclu documenting how legal, first amendment-protected activities have been entered into a pentagon database designed to track terrorist threats.

how are sobriety-check devices and sexual predator residence laws in the same league as habeas corpus and wiretapping? simple -- they are all symptoms of the same mindset that allows freedom to be curtailed in the name of security.

freedom entails certain risk. the fact is, no matter how hard we try, we will never eliminate the threat of a drunk driver on the road. we will never fully prevent sexual predators from acting out. we will never fully protect the country from terrorism. that's not to say we shouldn't try and reduce the risks -- no, we should demand that risks are reduced while freedom is protected. treatment for those types of crimes where there's some evidence that treatment works. legal forms of surveillance, monitored by an impartial court and subject to detailed review by congress. that's not to mention the plethora of port security and air cargo screening that the current congress and administration have inexplicably refused to ensure are in place, this despite it being a centerpiece of the 9/11 commission's findings.

freedom and security are not mutually exclusive. and eroding freedom for the sake of security makes us both less secure and more importantly less free.

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