… at least not if “law enforcers” get their way.
During the G-20 summit in the Pittsburgh area last week, police arrested two activists. These particular activists weren’t breaking windows. They weren’t setting cars on fire. They weren’t even parading around brandishing giant puppets and chanting anti-capitalist slogans.
In fact, they were in a hotel room in Kennedy, Pennsylvania, miles away from “unsanctioned” protests in Lawrenceville … listening to the radio and availing themselves of the hotel’s Wi-Fi connection. Now they stand accused of “hindering apprehension, criminal use of a communication facility and possessing instruments of crime.”
The radio they were listening to was (allegedly) a police scanner. They were (allegedly) using their Internet access to broadcast bulletins about police movements in Lawrenceville to activists at the protests, using Twitter.
Is that a crime? Should it be a crime?
There are lots of good reasons to avoid contact with the police that don’t imply any connection with truly criminal activity. In fact, it’s easy to argue — so I will — that if police are actually responding to real crimes, avoiding the police means avoiding getting caught in the middle of real crime scenes.
If, on the other hand, the police are themselves the real criminals, as is often the case, avoiding them is nothing more or less than preemptive, non-violent self-defense and makes even more sense. Remember, this time last year police in Denver, Colorado were yukking it up over an in-club t-shirt bearing the slogan “We get up early to BEAT the crowds,” referring to their role in the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
But enough of that. The Pittsburgh Two weren’t arrested for committing, or facilitating any real “crime.” They were arrested because agents of the state fear and loathe any gathering or event they do not control, and any use — or even possession — of tools or technology which might conceivably reduce or frustrate their ability to do … well, whatever the hell they feel like doing.
That fear and loathing is entirely justified. Every major new technological development threatens the status quo, and the increasing pace of such development over the last few decades makes for a grumpy, embattled state.
The trend has only gained momentum with the introduction of things like networks which don’t depend on single central servers, or which operate easily across the imaginary lines politicians draw on the ground to mark their turf (“borders”), or which are impossible to snuff out by taking down a single node or even a set of nodes.
These newer technologies terrify agents of the state for two reasons.
First, they’re equalizers for those fighting against the state, whatever form the fight may take. The Pittsburgh Two are a good example– and don’t assume that because they got caught, they lost. More on that in a minute.
Secondly, and more importantly, they make it easy for a variety of individuals and groups to simply ignore and avoid the state. Building the new stateless society in the shell of the old statist one is getting a lot easier lately — and remember, we’re only seeing little bits of that construction activity. The “underground economy” is — duh — mostly underground. If it looks like a two-story building from street level, those two stories are probably sitting atop 80 basement levels.
Government as we know it is engaged in a battle for its very survival, and that battle, as I’ve mentioned before, looks in key respects a lot like the Recording Industry Association of America’s fight with peer-to-peer “file-sharing” networks. The RIAA can — and is — cracking down as hard as it can, in every way it can think of, but it is losing the fight and there’s simply no plausible scenario under which it can expect to emerge victorious. The recording industry as we know it will change its business model, or it will go under.
The Pittsburgh Two are wonderfully analogous to the P2P folks. Their arrest boils down, for all intents and purposes, to a public debugging session. Pittsburgh Two 2.0 will set their monitoring stations further from the action (across jurisdictional lines), use a relay system to get the information to those stations in a timely manner, then retransmit that information using offshore and anonymizing proxies. The cops won’t get within 50 miles of finding Pittsburgh Two 2.0, and anything they do to counter its efficacy will be countered in subsequent versions.
The big dissimilarity in the RIAA/government analogy is that government can’t change its business model without ceasing to be government. Heads we win, tails they lose.