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The Constitution ONLY protects us from the government



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 Monday, 07 March 2005
Monday, 07 March 2005 13:15:26 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

It is a common misconception that the Constitution protects us from any source of attack on liberty. But that's not true. The Constitution and Bill of Rights only protect us from the government. There is no Contitutional protection from our neighbors, random people on the street or our employers. Protection in those areas flows from laws, not from the Constitution.


Thus, we have no protection of free speech or religion or against unreasonable search-and-seizure if it is performed by our employer or some other corporate entity. Oh sure, there is protection in the case that a law has been passed to force such protection, and there are many such laws. There are numerous worker protection laws for instance, all created due to pressure by unions and against the resistance of employers.


A recent court decision (from Boing Boing) says that a blogger must turn over information to Apple about someone who broke an Apple NDA. You might consider that freedom of speech is an issue. But it is not, because Apple isn't the government and the Constitution provides no protection against Apple forcing you to say or not say certain things.


Is this scary? Oh yeah! Is it new? Not at all. Why do you think unions came into being originally? It wasn't due to the benevolence of the corporations, or because the corporations were flaunting rights granted to the workers by the Constitution. No, it was because the corporations were doing perfectly legal (if highly immoral) things and laws needed to be passed to stop them.


Not that I’m a big fan of unions as they exist today, but it would be foolish to ignore the pressing need that brought them into existence in the first place. Just as it would be foolish to ignore the growing power of corporations in our daily lives through the media, the Internet and through their influence on the government itself.


This is all very dangerous and I think it quite possible that we’ll have to invent some new type of “union” to protect ourselves against corporate interests as time goes on. Not just against our employers, but against external corporate interests that want to control us in the form of consumers and producers in the broader sense. We rely on the government to provide this protection today, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the government is increasingly under corporate control and thus may not be in a position to protect us in the future.


One tenant of Cyberpunk literature is that nation-state governments become essentially powerless in the face of global corporate interests. That trans-national corporations become so powerful that they become the de-facto rulers of the people and governments are relegated to the sidelines.


I think they got it wrong. I think it is far more likely that trans-national corporations will co-opt the governments of nation-states and will use those governments as tools to rule. Far less of a visible shift for most people. Possibly not enough of a shift that many people will even notice the change…

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