Congress Has Bad Record Tethering Its Pet Monsters

Originally published at The Wall Street Journal

Letter to the Editor:

In her April 1 editorial-page commentary “The ‘Privacy’ Jihad1,” Heather Mac Donald fails to understand why many think tanks and privacy advocacy groups across the political spectrum are concerned about a number of government proposals that would further diminish privacy rights. We have had a long history of law-enforcement agencies going well beyond original mandates and abusing citizens, all under the rubric of protecting us. Has Ms. Mac Donald forgotten the many transgressions of the FBI, particularly under J. Edgar Hoover and Presidents Johnson and Nixon, the periodic abuses by the IRS, and prosecutors using RICO statutes for starters?

Enthusiasm for further extension of the state’s police power might be diminished by reflecting on the statement of Judge John Yoder, who served in the Reagan Justice Department: “When I set up the Asset Forfeiture Office, I thought I could use my position to help protect citizens’ rights, and tried to ensure that the U.S. Department of Justice went after big time drug dealers and big time criminals, rather than minor offenders and innocent property owners. Today, overzealous government agents and prosecutors will not think twice about seizing a yacht or car if they find two marijuana cigarettes in it, regardless of where they came from. I am now ashamed of, and scared of the monster I helped to create.”

Perhaps there would be less concern if Congress and the courts had tamed the monsters they previously created.

Richard W. Rahn
Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
Adjunct Scholar, Cato Institute

(1) Link to Heather Mac Donald’s Article, “The Privacy Jihad”

Richard Rahn

Richard W. Rahn is an economist, syndicated columnist, and entrepreneur. He was a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. Currently, he is Chairman of Improbable Success Productions and the Institute for Global Economic Growth. He was the Vice President and Chief Economist of the United States Chamber of Commerce during the Reagan Administration and remains a staunch advocate of supply-side economics, small government, and classical liberalism.