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Redefining The English Language To Fight The Drug War


no drug warby Scott Morgan

The tendency of the courts to trash our privacy rights in a pathetic attempt to prevent marijuana smoking is so routine that I seldom bother even to point it out anymore, but something about this case bugged me just enough to slap it around for a second.

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The federal government can obtain suspected marijuana growers’ utility records without a warrant.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled in the case of a Fairbanks utility, Golden Valley Electric Association, which refused turning over records to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

…GVEA argued the Fourth Amendment protects customers from search and seizure without a proper warrant.

But the appeals court ruled a customer lacks an expectation of privacy in an item, like a business record. SacBee.com]

Doesn’t that just sound silly? In fairness, I’ve studied enough law to know that the legal definition of a term like “expectation of privacy” is always slowly evolving and doesn’t necessarily mean what a random person would think it to mean. But come the hell on. Once we reach point where they’re telling us with a straight face that we have no “expectation of privacy” with regards to our business records, well, that’s just too stupid for school.

Unfortunately, it’s really rather consistent with how the courts treat our privacy rights, and the decision of how much privacy we can reasonably expect is not ours to make. Courts have consistently ruled, for example, that information you share with a third party carries no expectation of privacy because you’re assuming the risk that someone will turn that information over to the government. I disagree.

Rather obviously, we wouldn’t have to worry about the government obtaining our information from third parties if the government hadn’t granted itself the authority to collect said information and then introduce it as evidence against us in court. I wouldn’t have to worry about third parties carelessly disclosing my private information if such information were legally inadmissible as it ought to be.

When I hear the term “expectation of privacy” I think of the physical boundaries that separate public from private. I don’t expect privacy with regards to my purchases at the grocery store, or the content of a conversation on a crowded street. It’s well understood that any crime committed in “plain view” is fair game for police, even if they have to use binoculars to get a good view. I even sort of sympathize with allowing police to search your trash, since you left it outside where anyone could walk off with it.

But anyone can’t just walk off with my utility bills. Stealing mail is a crime, after all. To say that I have no expectation of privacy with regards to that information is preposterous. Yes, the utility company could give my information to the police, but so could a neighbor who steals my mail. Either way, I’m getting screwed by somebody and it’s not my fault for expecting privacy.

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  1. Steve in Oakland on

    In George Orwell’s 1984 anything pleasurable was presumed to be against the law. And like Fairbanks’ 2013, search warrants were a quaint memory from long ago. I, too, worked many years as a paralegal. The bastardization of the concept of “A reasonable expectation of privacy” used by the “anti-drug warriors” in Fairbanks is appalling!
    George Orwell wrote about the way language can be twisted and tortured to mean just about anything “they” want it to mean. Check out the essays by Orwell about this: Politicis of the English Language http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/ and The Principles of Newspeak http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-prin.html
    Of course, to get the bigger picture, read Orwell’s 1984, available free on-line at http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/22.html I think you’ll be amazed at how much closer we are to such a society than we were when Orwell wrote 1984, way back in 1948. If you have read it before, you will be surprised to see how clunky the repressive apparatus he envisioned was compared to what the police state has today.

  2. NoManTellsMeWhat2Do on

    Good stuff. As a paralegal, I find this very unsettling. Someone needs to come up with a number that is the amount of money one would need to move out of the US. I bet the gov would change their mind if every pot user up and said “I’m out, cuz you’re on that bullshit”.

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