Does Government Need a Search Warrant for Cell Phone Location Records?

search warrantThere’s an interesting case before the Supreme Court involving law enforcement agencies gaining access to information about where you have been traveling without a search warrant. In essence, your cell phone knows where you are at all times. The question is if that information can be turned over without the normal protections provided by the Fourth Amendment.

The case in question involves a person who was found guilty of robbing a series of Radio Shack stores. Police obtained records of who knows how many thousands of people, without a search warrant, and correlated data to determine who was close to all the stores on all the dates of the robberies. Certainly, this aided in catching Timothy Carpenter but also gave law enforcement officials access to the traveling habits of tens of thousands of people who did not commit a crime.

No one is arguing if the police suspected Carpenter they could not obtain a search warrant to his cell phone records and find a correlation between his movements and that of the robberies. The question is if they can get everyone’s records, anytime, for any stated reason, and comb over them.

The danger of government being able to know your precise location at any time is fairly evident. What if a government official wanted to know if their spouse was cheating on them and with whom? What if you offended a government official and they wanted to learn if you were cheating on your spouse, or frequenting a casino, or who were you friends so they might question them on your potentially unsavory actions?

The possibilities are limitless and I think it’s ridiculous to assume everyone in government has your best interests at heart. There are vindictive and violent people in government who could and would use this information to hurt people.

Some people reason if you have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t worry about it. I could not disagree more. If I am not a suspect in a criminal investigation, if reasonable cause cannot be argued before a judge; where I go is none of the government’s business. The government should not have free and unfettered access to my purchases, my movements, or my possessions.

The Fourth Amendment exists for good reason and we must be careful about allowing exceptions.

Tom Liberman

Pedestrian Citations versus Pedestrian Safety

pedestrian citationI just watched an interesting video on YouTube about pedestrian citations. Basically, pedestrians are given tickets for various violations including jaywalking and a litany of other things. The idea behind the citations is they are issued for the protection of citizens. Not crossing at a crosswalk is potentially a dangerous activity.

While I’m certain you won’t be surprised blacks and Hispanics receive the majority of these pedestrian citations, that’s not really what I want to talk about today. It’s the government supposedly trying to protect us that bothers me. In reality they are simply financing themselves through citations. The reason I say this is because the studies show these tickets are often given in areas where pedestrians have little choice but to break the law.

In the case of Florida, where the video originated, they are often given on streets where there is no sidewalk to use and yet there are bus stops. People must get to the bus stop but they can’t get there without walking on the street, which is a violation. Many other instances are when people move from one side of the street to the other but not at a crosswalk.

When you examine the region, there are no crosswalks available for multiple blocks. The alternative being to walk three, four, or more blocks out of your way to cross the street. I don’t care how much of a law and order person you are, that’s a law no one is going to follow.

The reality is making the streets safer for pedestrians involves spending money on building better sidewalks, designating more crosswalks, and a variety of other things. If the government actually wanted to make us safer, that’s what they’d do. Citations for these sorts of silly things are merely an excuse to generate revenue for the city.

For example, in my state of Missouri I violate a pedestrian law on an almost daily basis by walking on the left half of a crosswalk. Code 300.385. I’m fairly certain every person reading this article has violated this law many times. Because this law is violated constantly it becomes rife for abuse. The officer can charge whomever she or he feels like charging and let anyone else go merrily on their way. This is the problem with many laws and why we see people of color getting the majority of such citations, although, again, that’s not my main problem here.

The problem is the law. Let’s take 300.385 as an example of a law which continues to exist largely because of its revenue generating potential. The government will tell us the law was written to cut down on inconvenience when crossing the street at a crosswalk. By keeping opposite flowing pedestrian traffic on different sides, it is a better system. I don’t disagree with the principle of the idea. It is a good strategy. It just shouldn’t be a law punishable by a fine.

If someone wants to cross on the opposite side and there is no, or little, oncoming pedestrian traffic; all is well. If, on the other hand, the crosswalk is filled with people going both directions and someone is swimming upstream they are generally given dirty looks and even forced to the other side. That’s enough punishment. We don’t need to take people’s money in order to get them to walk on the convenient side of the crosswalk. Are we going to have laws forcing people to wait before entering a mass transit vehicle thus allowing exiting people to go first?

It is against the law to change lanes without signaling. It is against the law to make a turn and switch from one lane to another while doing so. There is virtually no one in the nation who doesn’t break laws on a daily basis.

The question I’d like you to ask yourself is relatively simple. If law enforcement agents started to enforce these laws on people driving a Mercedes, a Lexus, a Tesla, a BMW, and other expensive cars; if law enforcement agents started enforcing jaywalking laws on people wearing expensive clothes; if law enforcement agents started citing politicians at the state capital for crossing on the wrong half of the crosswalk; how long before the laws would change?

These laws are a tool of oppression on those who cannot defend themselves and serve the sole purpose of financing government agents without making life any safer or better for citizens. That’s just plain wrong.

Tom Liberman

Solving Animal Abuse at Intensive Animal Farming Facilities

intensive animal farmingThere are two apparently diametrically opposed sides in the animal husbandry industry. Animal Rights Activists and owners and operators of Intensive Animal Farming Facilities. One of the positive takes I have about being a Libertarian and Objectivist is that I’m not ideologically tied to any particular side in an issue.

On one side are the activists who see the abuse of animals and feel an ethical obligation to do everything in their power to help the largely defenseless creatures. On the other are people trying to provide goods to paying customers, employ willing people, and make a profit while doing so. What we see are two groups of people doing all they can in court, on social media, and in various state legislatures to attack one another.

I, on the other hand, do not see the two groups as necessarily needing to fight one another for the minds of public opinion. I think there is a place for both sides and a happy middle ground. I understand getting the entire population of the world to turn to a plant-based diet is a hopeless endeavor. People will always want to eat meat and someone will provide this product. I am also truly disgusted when I see the videos animal rights activists’ post when they gain access to such farms.

If we take a Libertarian and Objectivist point of view, I think the inevitable conclusion is there will always be such farms but that animals should not be tortured and brutalized while they are living their short lives. When videos come out showing horrific abuse of animals the owners and operators of the facilities always express outrage but I find words to be largely meaningless. I want to see action.

That brings me to the point of this article. How can the owners and operators of Intensive Animal Farming Facilities and Animal Rights Activists work together in a pragmatic way to reach some reasonable solution? This is important. It must be remembered when the two sides attack one another this takes time, effort, and money. These things could be channeled into productive activities that make a difference.

The simplest solution is for Animal Rights Activists to purchase, install, monitor, and maintain cameras at various points in the facilities. If the owners of such farms truly are concerned for the welfare of their animals, as they express time and again, they will have no problem with such a system. It costs them nothing and ensures workers are being monitored for abuses to animals that certainly affect production.

It will also help the public make informed decisions about their purchases. If I can go online and watch how the animal is being treated at the farm before and during slaughter that helps me feel good about my purchase. If I know the animal is reasonably well-cared for and not being tortured, I am happy to spend my money on the product. I imagine that I’m not alone in this feeling. If I knew that an animal was horribly abused before getting to market, I would probably not make the purchase. This ripple effect causes those farmers who practice treating their animals with respect gain market share.

This changes the Intensive Animal Farming industry as a whole. If people are well-informed in their purchasing decisions and farmers who treat animals well are rewarded, then the farmers who have less healthy practices are driven from the business.

This is a desired result. It is good for the ethical farmers, it is good for the purchasing public, and contributes to the welfare of the animals themselves. I don’t think anyone would have an objection to this outcome except those who enjoy abusing animals. Let us not pretend that such people do not exist and are not attracted to jobs that allow them to carry out their perverse desires. They must be curtailed.

From my perspective, the important thing here is to try and work together to come up with solutions to problems rather than simply attacking one another. I find that ideological differences can be overcome when you are willing to examine practical solutions and work with each other. I also believe when you refuse to engage in such compromise you are setting yourself up for long-term disaster.

Neither the Intensive Animal Farming industry or the Animal Rights Activists can truly win this war alone. They need each other.

Tom Liberman

Ending the Lychee Dog Meat Festival

lychee dog meat festivalOne of my Facebook acquaintances who is deeply passionate about animal rights recently posted about the Lychee Dog Meat festival in China. I think it’s fairly reasonable to suggest that most of us in the western world are not particularly comfortable with eating canines. What can be done about it? What is the best way to stop such behavior? This question speaks to my Libertarian ideology.

I recently wrote several blogs about the horse meat industry and I think the comparison is reasonable. When horse lovers lobbied Congress sufficiently, laws were passed that defunded the inspection of horse slaughter houses. Because it is not legal to slaughter animals in the United States without such inspections, the industry was eliminated. Yet, the practice continues.

The efforts of people like my friend on Facebook are used to put pressure on China to outlaw the Lychee festival. In China manipulative legislative runarounds like that which was done with the horse meat industry are unnecessary. They do not live in a free society. If the government wants to prevent a particular activity, they simply issue a ban. There is no Constitution to maneuver around. If my friend and her allies can put enough pressure on China to outlaw the festival, it will happen, but will it work?

In China the government position is that the Chinese people do not hold dogs in the same regard as companions as do Westerners. They find our slaughter of cows and chickens to be far more egregious than the single festival in which a few thousand dogs die. In this, I believe they are correct. More cows and chickens are slaughtered in a single day than die in the yearly festival.

Opponents of the festival argue the dogs die in unsupervised, and horrific fashion. That many of the animals are stolen from their owners. I have no way of knowing if this is true or not but it certainly seems plausible.

Now we get down to the reality of this world. The Chinese people enjoy the meat of dogs. The people of the United States largely find such slaughter abhorrent.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Chinese government comes around the way of thinking of my friend. They ban the slaughter of dogs, they outlaw the Lychee festival. Do we think that such will prevent dogs from being slaughtered and eaten? The answer is obviously no. As long as Chinese people want to eat dogs, dogs will be eaten. Horses are still slaughtered and eaten in the United States, it is just done via a black market. The price increases, money is delivered into the hands of criminals. The ban is largely ineffective.

It seems obvious to me such would be the case in China. The Chinese government might even give lip service to such a ban but would not bother to enforce it. This is the problem with relying on government to solve problems. Sure, they can pass laws, they can make heroin illegal, they can make speeding illegal, they can outlaw certain variety of firearms, but these laws never stop human behavior. If people want to consume drugs, to drive quickly, to purchase firearms; they will continue to do so.

We only give ourselves the illusion of safety and harmony with such laws. In reality the behavior continues largely unabated or even enhanced by the lure of danger.

What is to be done? My friend is passionate, she is caring, she strongly believes in the rights of animals. I applaud and admire her dedication and think it is people like her who will eventually bring about change, if change is to come. She should continue to make her opinion known, convince one person at a time. It is only when people no longer want to consume dogs, or horses, that the Lychee festival will end. The government is helpless and hopeless.

Do not rely on government to legislate. Convince people, convince the individual. The individual has the power. If you cannot convince the people, then you need to make a better argument.

Tom Liberman

The Story of Mike Mariana and Trials of Osiris might make you a Libertarian

mike marianaYou probably haven’t heard of a video game called Destiny, an excellent player of the game named DrLupo, or a dedicated but average skilled player named Mike Mariana who recently died. That’s too bad. One of the main concepts of Libertarianism is people of like interests gathering and doing what they enjoy without interference. The story I’m about to tell you is what I imagine the world would be if we were all Libertarians.

Mariana developed cancer a few years back and between the disease and chemotherapy his ability to physically interact with the world was greatly diminished. He started playing the computer game Destiny. As the cancer grew worse it was one of the few games he could play and he and a group of online friends spent many hours enjoying themselves in battle.

In Destiny there is a series of tasks called the Trials of Osiris. If a team is able to pass this trial they can visit a place called The Lighthouse. Mariana’s friends decided to dedicate themselves to helping him get there. Sadly, their skills just weren’t up to the task and Mariana was growing ever weaker from the spreading cancer.

They decided to ask a Destiny streamer who uses the name DrLupo to help. DrLupo is a Destiny expert and agreed to help Mariana. In the game you play in teams of three so DrLupo gathered one of his friends and joined up with Mike to take on the Trials of Osiris. DrLupo did it as part of a charitable 24 hours stream hoping to raise $10,000 for the Make-a-Wish foundation. I do not think I need spell it out. Mariana got to play with one of his heroes, he won the right to visit The Lighthouse, much money was raised, chipped in by putting the final run on the front page of their site, and there was much rejoicing.

Certainly, a feel-good story but I think more than that. The internet gives us an opportunity to gather with like-minded friends and do things we enjoy in a way not possible throughout human history. Our geographic location is irrelevant, our race is not a factor, our religion is of no consequence, our political affiliation makes no difference, our gender is inconsequential. All the things that divided people throughout recorded history are falling by the wayside.

Not to say that the institutions under attack are not fighting back. People use religious, racial, gender, and political difference in an attempt to lure us into their hate-filled lives. They try to pit us against each other. They try to convince us that hatred, persecution, and rage are the paths to happiness. I’m here to tell you the way to a happy life is to spend it doing things you enjoy with those of similar interests.

The way to self-loathing and unhappiness is to spend your time railing against those who do thing you don’t like, who profess political ideas with which you disagree, or who worship or do not worship the same way as you.

Do you spend your time on Social Media and in real life posting diatribes against those you think are doing something wrong? Trying to ruin the lives of those who act in ways that offend you? This is not the way to happiness. You might think it is but you are destroying yourself in such pursuits. You are wasting your life.

I’m not going to tell you to stop such behavior. If you want to spend your life trying to hurt other people, that’s your business. I’m suggesting you be more like Mariana. Spend your time doing the things you love, because you’re going to be dead soon enough.

Tom Liberman