07.26.08 Maryland Spy-Gate – Take III

Apologists for our dear little police state keep suggesting that it is the duty of law enforcement to spy on leaflet-distributors and cookie-bakers to keep us all safe.  Or, if this isn’t exactly necessary, no harm is actually done when it happens.  Or, if harm is done, it’s only budgetary and the key issue is how long the exercise goes on.

So, how does the mere presence of police spies constitute government suppression of dissent?  Here’s how:

  • To the extent that individuals consider it likely that the government is collecting information about them, they will be that much less likely to engage in the activity that they feel exposes them to the risk.
  • To the extent that any group of individuals fears that there is a spy in their midst, the less likely they will be to share their honest views with each other in furtherance of group’s purpose.
  • To the extent that the possibility of a spy being present breaks down trust between individuals who are trying to work cooperatively for a cause, the less effective their work for that cause will be.
  • To the extent that society perceives that certain (in this case, conservative) causes are favored by government and others (in this case, liberal) are disfavored, the less likely they will be to support the disfavored causes.

Back to our present, nominally Democratic, governor and his friends.  O’Malley’s pick as police henchman, Terrence Sheridan, repeated the Guv’s line yesterday, saying  “They shouldn’t have gone on that long.” In the same article he seeks to reassure us that his office doesn’t believe in this kind of spying and promises to “make sure our policies reflect the standards of this administration” [emphasis added].

Nice.  We have a kindly Democratic administration promising us that they would never spy on us little people and letting us know we can trust them to adjust their policies to their promises.

What’s wrong with that?  Well, for one thing, I just don’t have that much trust in government, these days.  Such verbal promises mean less than the oxygen burned in uttering them.  And, even if we are to be reassured that O’Malley and Sheridan have our best interests at heart, guess what?  They won’t be in office forever!  As lovely as they clearly are, they say nothing about protecting us from their successors, who just might not be as sweet and kind.

So, it is up to us little people to demand that our beloved Bill of Rights actually mean something.  Only we can lean on our Democratic legislators hard enough to make sure that suppression of lawful dissent never happens again in Maryland.

It is not enough to demand a full accounting of how this sordid affair took place.  It is not enough to fire or fine those individuals still on the public payroll who made or let this happen.  To truly protect civil liberties in Maryland, there must be ironclad legislation that allows no discretion for future governors and police chiefs to spy on those they simply don’t like.

For District 20 (Silver Spring/Takoma Park) your legislators are:

Other Marylanders can find their legislators here.

For more discussion of this issue, see some great posts on Maryland Politics Watch.

©2008 Keith Berner

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One Comment on “07.26.08 Maryland Spy-Gate – Take III”

  1. Eric Luedtke Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. And as a constitutional scholar, there’s no one better to spearhead such a bill than Jamie Raskin.


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