Posts tagged law
While Clapper grudgingly accepts the damage the Snowden affair has done to his own reputation, he worries more deeply about the impact it’s had on the intelligence workforce. He hates the thought that America might turn on his employees. He fears that, in the same way the nation and Congress turned their backs on the CIA officers who ran the agency’s “black sites” and torture program in the wake of 9/11, the country will one day turn on the people who carry out drone attacks. “I worry that people will decide retroactively that killing people with drones was wrong, and that will lead us to criticize, indict, and try people who helped kill with drones,” he says. “I find it really bothersome to set a moral standard retrospectively,” he says. “People raise all sorts of good questions about things America has done. Everyone now agrees that interning Japanese [Americans] in World War II was egregious—but at the time it seemed like it was in the best interests of the country.”
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship? The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. Most critiques of this system tend to focus on the ways in which this marketplace of ideas isn’t totally free, such as the ways in which some actors have substantially more influence over what information is distributed than others. The more fundamental problem, however, is that living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn’t able to. Any teenager can tell you that life’s most meaningful experiences aren’t the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire. We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible.
But the well-publicized success stories obscure the fact that familial DNA searches can generate more noise than signal. “Anyone who knows the science understands that there’s a high rate of false positives,” says Erin Murphy, a New York University law professor and the author of Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA. The searches, after all, look for DNA profiles that are similar to the perpetrator’s but by no means identical, a scattershot approach that yields many fruitless leads, and for limited benefit. In the United Kingdom, a 2014 study found that just 17 percent of familial DNA searches “resulted in the identification of a relative of the true offender.”
Perhaps the most dramatic example of a massive scandal that cannot seem to be reversed involves Annie Dookhan, a chemist who worked at a Massachusetts state lab drug analysis unit. Dookhan was sentenced in 2013 to at least three years in prison, after pleading guilty in 2012 to having falsified thousands of drug tests. Among her extracurricular crime lab activities, Dookhan failed to properly test drug samples before declaring them positive, mixed up samples to create positive tests, forged signatures, and lied about her own credentials. Over her nine-year career, Dookhan tested about 60,000 samples involved in roughly 34,000 criminal cases. Three years later, the state of Massachusetts still can’t figure out how to repair the damage she wrought almost single-handedly.
Medieval brewers had used many problematic ingredients to preserve beers, including, for example soot and fly agaric mushrooms. More commonly, other “gruit” herbs had been used, such as stinging nettle and henbane. Indeed, the German name of the latter, Bilsenkraut, may originally mean “Plzeň herb”, indicating that this region was a major centre of beer brewing long before the invention of (Reinheitsgebot-compliant) Pilsener.
Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal – or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law – but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we’re living in a police state.