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Turning tradesmen into government agents

There’s a Reason online article here, and comments about it all on the Reason blog here, about this:

One night a few weeks ago, I was half-watching a black-and-white, early ’60s episode of The Andy Griffith Show on TV LAND (Episode 60, “The Bookie Barber”), when, all of a sudden, the homespun wisdom of Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor touched on today’s heated debate over how to balance individual privacy with security. Andy responded to a suggestion by his deputy Barney Fife by saying: “You can’t ask a private citizen to become a police spy. It’s too dangerous. Something could go wrong.” The statement jolted me, and I thought, if only Sheriff Taylor had been there to offer this profound piece of advice to the Republicans and Democrats writing the USA PATRIOT Act.

Title III of the act, which contains provisions to counter money-laundering, requires a host of private businesses to become “police spies” on their customers. These little-known provisions of the much-talked about law draft a substantial number of private-sector employees as citizen soldiers in the war on terrorism as well as on the broadly-defined crime of “money laundering.”

Says commenter James Merrit:

A free people, empowering a government that acts consistent with the ideals of freedom, will have the minimum to fear from terrorists. It won’t be a perfect world, or a world without danger, but it will be the best we can hope for. We need to reject the fear-based policies and concentrate on freedom-based ones, starting as soon as possible. Do not empower the fascists; do not empower the socialists. We’ve seen where their roads lead. Empower those who uphold the principles of freedom in word and deed. Making a good start really is as simple as that.

We have similar money laundering stuff here in Britain as well, as David Carr explains.

And turning traders into government stooges has also been here a long time. If you buy a TV, the shop you buy it from has long wanted to know who you are so that it can tell the government and the government can check that you’ve got a TV license. If you refuse to say who you are, you are liable to end up not buying the TV, as Michael Yardley explains in the latest Spectator:

They changed tack. ‘You’ve got to give us your name and address or you can’t have the television.’ ‘But I’ve paid for it.’ ‘You can’t have it.’ At this point, perhaps I should have walked out of the shop with the television and risked prosecution for some unspecified offence in Kafkaesque Britain. I went for the less dramatic option. ‘Well, I’ll have my money back.’ The first response from the shop staff was that this was impossible. They backed down when I pressed the point. I was directed to ‘customer services’. A credit was made to my card. I left without a television. What a palaver.

Driving home, I thought back to the last time I had bought a television, ten years or more ago. I had a dim memory of being asked for my name and address ‘for the guarantee’. It wasn’t for that purpose, I now knew. It was a ploy to get the information for the faceless ones. …

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