The city government of Cedar Falls, Iowa, recently passed an ordinance that requires commercial building owners to store their keys in lockboxes that the fire and police departments could access; Iowa citizens were justifiably outraged. As the local story reports, “A group of people who say the ordinance is a risk for invasion of citizens' privacy and an unnecessary cost for businesses are mounting a campaign to keep it out of the books.” On a larger scale, this ordinance is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. It shows the growing local, state, and federal government abuses of civil liberties. Since the government continues to infringe on our civil liberties, we need to find alternative ways to safeguard our freedom.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens’ rights to secure their private property against “unreasonable searches and seizures” without an official search warrant. This right — “a man’s home is his castle” — dates back to English common law and the 1215 Magna Carta; it is an essential pillar of any free society.
Unfortunately, the Cedar Falls ordinance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Fourth Amendment violations. Last month, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that residents have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes. The FBI just granted its agents even more leeway in how they conduct surveillance. The “war on drugs” has led to countless unconstitutional, military-style home invasions by state and federal governments. And, of course, the most famous violations come from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the PATRIOT Act.
These examples are especially egregious because of the “ratchet effect” that accompanies government action. Initially, people become angry when their rights are abused and violated by the state. However, as government swallows more liberties, they become accustomed to their freedom level (or lack thereof) and casually accept it because they do not remember any different.
Most, if not all, of the government's current abuses in the name of security would be unfamiliar and outrageous to previous generations. The government expands its powers, especially during wartime, at the expense of citizens’ liberties. Corrupt politicians take advantage of the ratchet effect to justify government expansion and restricting liberties.
This is why it is so essential for young people to take an interest in their civil liberties, stand up for them, and offer solutions to the modern American national-security-surveillance state.
It is time this generation stops becoming a victim of this effect and remembers the constitutional justifications for a free society. Government exists to protect our freedoms, but since the government’s power ultimately relies on force, how can it possibly accomplish this goal? Trusting this institution to protect your property is a recipe for abuse and corruption.
Separating policing from the purview of the state seems like a radical solution. However, allowing the market to protect life, liberty, and property has historical precedent; the market relies on voluntary exchange and consent, instead of taxation and top-down decree. In other words, would you voluntarily pay for an agency to wiretap phones without warrants, police other people’s personal habits, and illegally enter homes?
The free market already provides a majority of our protection efficiently and cheaply. Alarms, locks, private firearms, and insurance protect our homes while private arbitration and contracts police our disputes, all without violating civil liberties.
As Pericles said, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” As our basic Fourth Amendment rights slowly deteriorate, it is critical that this generation begins to reverse the trend and defend the tenets of a free society.
Photo Credit: johnshepherd