27

"But, if you've nothing to hide..."

News just in from Slashdot: apparently, the US PATRIOT act has been used to investigate someone accused of copyright violations.

Let me be clear about this: violating someone's copyright is not an act of terrorism. No argument to the contrary, in my opinion, can hold water.

The US PATRIOT act was rushed through the US Congress in the weeks following the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Many of the provisions of the act raise concerns among those who like to protect people's civil liberties. Rights, like the requirements of warrents for searches and so on, were to be denied those suspected of being terrorists while at the same time, the definition of a terrorist was broadened. This has the chilling effect of making more people terrorists in law, while at the same time reducing those people's rights to what the Americans refer to as "due process".

This is a primary reason why the US PATRIOT act is dangerous, but it is also the reason why many conservative legislators in the US are keen to extend its duration and powers. They claim the extra powers are required to better fight the scourge of terrorism.

Those who have supported it, or, at the very least, who believe powers similar to those granted by this temper-tantrum of an act are required to "make the world safer" invariably revert to the most defeatist of all arguments: "But if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide: why should you worry?"

Here's why I should worry: An industry organisation, whose only – not primary, only – motivation is the protection of a gushing revenue stream, has convinced an arm of the US federal government to regard a person they don't like as a terrorist.

So. What are we to think? The FBI got it wrong and it'll all get ironed out in time? The MPAA has over-reacted and will ultimately repent its error?

Not on your life, bucko. Experience has shown that the FBI is most zealous when acting as an agency of corporate interests. Just look at the case of Dmitry Sklyarov – a young Russian programmer charged with copyright violation upon accusation by Adobe. After Adobe withdrew the charge, the US government continued with the prosecution, to its ultimate embarrassment. (Sklyarov was found not guilty of all charges).

Unlike that case, though, you can be fairly sure that the MPAA will not bow to public pressure, and you can be certain that the US federal government will persue this with all its misplaced vigour.

This man, in all probability, had done nothing wrong, had nothing to hide and still fell foul of the law. His life is ruined now, because, even if he is found innocent of all charges, the financial cost of fighting for his reputation will beggar him for ever.

I hope you're all proud of yourselves, you who believe you will never do anything wrong, will have anything to hide. When it comes to it, whose definition will you rely on when wondering if what you do is wrong?

Éibhear