Against Arbitrary Application of the Law
It sounds like it’s straight from a dystopian novel, but this police department’s real life algorithmic ‘minority report’ issues directions to police, who ‘follow orders’, relentlessly, obediently, day or night, in a computerised attempt to ‘break’ individuals the formula says are ‘bad’, until they “move or sue”.
The harassment often begins even before evidence of a crime has been found, something most of us would object to, and certainly anyone serious about their libertarian values.
At the non-libertarian end of the spectrum Beria, the infamous sidekick of Stalin, coined the phrase “show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.” What did he mean by that? He meant just about anyone has something that could be twisted to be of interest to authoritarian enforcement – zero wrongdoing or lack of evidence was no barrier.
Ayn Rand, however, put it another way: “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”
Given this reality, virtually every one of us will have breached some law, code or regulation. Why haven’t you been pulled up about it? The law has bigger fish to catch perhaps – but if the law ever decided it wanted to pull you up, odds are it could find something. And if not, the experience of being pursued will have been harassment enough to serve as a warning – stay in line! What line? Whatever line they tell you.
Think you’re safe from such a tactic? Unlikely. Do you know how many laws and regulations there are? It’s impossible for you to know right now, a very rare few would have the ability to memorise all the ways you might fall foul. It also has the opposite effect, even if innocent will you ever be certain you are enough to push back?
Under normal circumstances that might be balanced by the fact law enforcement can’t memorise all the laws and regulations either. But a computer, an algorithm, that uses criteria fed to it, that doesn’t care about bad memory, and it doesn’t care about cause (or even the lesser probable cause). It just generates a list of people to be singled out.
If you are singled out for special attention, then someone finding that one way you’re in breach of some regulation few knew or cared about, is so much more likely. Take, for example, the deliberate search for “code violations” which the police use to harass their computer generated targets, explained in the article. Your grass is too long – have a fine.
Too many rules, mean too many ways to be singled out, and too many ways for people to worry they might have slipped up, even if they haven’t. And since resources can’t possibly pull up everyone, but still might pull up anyone, the ‘rules’ are tantamount to a mechanism for arbitrary arrest.
Pasco County where this is happening is in the US, but there’s no need to think that here in the UK we’re safe behind Magna Carta. If you think the law isn’t arbitrary, just consider the apparently different approaches being taken against peaceful ‘anti-masker’ protesters when compared to other recent protests. Selective application of the law is what makes it arbitrary and therefore biased. Could that look arbitrary to you? Under Coronavirus ’emergency powers’ there are even more opportunities for this abuse of power.
Churchill said, “if you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” But I wonder, perhaps not the regulations, but how they are selectively used… that could destroy all respect for the law.
What’s the cure? Apply the law equally to everyone – not just the people you’ve singled out, base action on actual evidence, and have as few rules as absolutely necessary to defend individual rights. It’s not rocket science – it’s called being a libertarian (in other words, being a good neighbour).
Families were subjected to around-the-clock visits from deputies, who often arrived without evidence of a crime.