Libbertarian Disconnect

I don't know that I have ever seen a clearer example of the disconnect of thinking between libertarians and authoritarian political thinking than in this brief paragraph from Dahlia Lithwick.  She is writing about a court case reviewing whether it should be a crime to deny police your identification.  She writes, making fun of libertarians:

It would be easier to credit the Cato and ACLU arguments if we didn't already have to hand over our ID to borrow a library book, obtain a credit card, drive a car, rent videos, obtain medical treatment, or get onto a plane. So the stark question then becomes this: Why are you willing to tell everyone but the state who you are? It's a curious sort of privacy that must be protected from nobody except the government.

Really??  It is strange to her that we would treat privacy uniquely with the one and only organization in this country that can legally use force against us, legally take our money without our permission, and legally throw us in prison?  Is she really so blinded by a love for state authority that she can't tell the difference between a transaction at Blockbuster, which we can choose not to patronize if we don't like their terms of sale, and an interaction with police, where there is not even a hint of it being an arms-length, consensual, balanced interaction.

There is an largeand growing body of evidence that police take advantage of their power mismatch with citizens and abuse their power in multiple ways, large and small.  These abuses have likely always existed, but were covered up by police officers standing up for each other.  Only the advent of portable video cameras has started to really document what really goes on in these interactions.  Just read a few posts at this site to get a flavor.  And cops sure don't like when you ask them for their ID, as they hate anything that might impose accountability on them:

And in today's daily contempt-of-cop story, Ft. Lauderdale Police Officer Jeff Overcash did not appreciate a man asking him for his badge number, so he pulled out his handcuffs and arrested him.And it was all caught on video.

The video shows Brennan Hamilton walking up to Overcash in a calm manner with a pen and notepad in his hand. Overcash, who is leaning against his squad car with other cops, then pulls out his handcuffs and arrests Hamilton.

Overcash charged him with resisting arrest without violence and disorderly intoxication.

Alex Tabarrok makes a good point.   Based on these arguments, Lithwick must be A-OK with Arizona's new immigration laws, right?

Update:  It is interesting that while sneering at slippery slope arguments, she proves their merit.

The slippery-slope arguments"”that this leads to a police state in which people are harassed for doing nothing"”won't really fly, although I guarantee that you'll hear more and more of them in the coming weeks.

But in the immediately proceeding lines she wrote:

Is there something about stating your name or handing over a driver's license that differs from being patted down or frisked, which is already constitutional for Terry purposes?I, for one, would rather hand over my driver's license to a cop than be groped by one.

This is a perfect illustration of the slippery slope, almost textbook.  Libertarians certainly opposed current pat down and frisking rules, but since these are legal, Lithwick uses their legality to creep the line a little further.  And then the legality of these ID checks will in turn be used to justify the legality of something else more intrusive.


  1. anon:

    Agree with all, but with one significant addition:

    Ms. Lithwick needs to play the Sesame Street game -- one of these things is not like the others. In this case, all of the queries for ID are as a result of a voluntary association. You don't have to borrow a book, get a credit card, etc. (and yes, you can still avoid getting medical treatment), except for the government. The government is imposed on you regardless of your wishes.

    Moreover, in each one of those transactions (except the government) one can envision, if not actually find, an example provider or substitute where an ID may be withheld for a price ($$ or convenience).

  2. Privacy Not Required:

    Methinks you doth protest too much.

    Government *is* like other organizations in that there are times it needs identification to determine how to handle people. Government is *different* in that if any other organization is asking, they cannot force you to accept, except as condition for action or service (ID at the bank, supermarket, getting a beer, getting a book from library).

    Arguing against the similarities because they are not the same deflects the intent of the argument, which is about what is being asked more than who is asking.

    So it really is simple - it goes to just cause for asking for ID. Only Government, as you point out, has some powers beyond other organizations that raise concerns of unjust harrassment without recourse. The solution is not to shut down ability of Government to ask for information in the same way that other orgs do, but to set boundaries.

    If a cop asks for a loiterer for an ID because there is reasonable suspicion he's up to no good, or asks for ID at a traffic stop to run a check, for his own safety; or is tipped off there is a burglar in a neighborhood and does a stop of a car in said neighborhood to see if the person belongs there - just cause. If the Government does have a just cause, and there is still a hue and cry, then "It’s a curious sort of privacy that must be protected from nobody except the government." ... is a valid retort.

    BTW, the immigration law in AZ explicitly forbid racial profiling and allow the immigration status check in the course of lawful interaction with citizens, ie, a prior stop/arrest, and only in such cases as 'reasonable suspicion' that a violation of Federal immigration law (and state law) exists. As such, it too fits the just cause category.

    The slipperly slope argument *are* wrong. Boundaries define the difference between a foul ball and a good hit. Such a boundary is set in our own 4th Amendment - it doesnt say "no search" it says "reasonable search"... and privacy is not even a right in the constitution, that is a modern construction. The right is to liberty, and in this age of information, we need to think in terms of protecting liberty not privacy. If you didnt know that the credit card companies + Google + marketers already know everything about you, then you are deluding yourself.

  3. ColoComment:

    Further on just cause and reasonable suspicion, Andy McCarthy has another of his always-exceptional articles up today at NRO, on just those topics. Here:

    According to McCarthy, with its just cause and reasonable suspicion requirements, the new AZ law is actually more restrictive than the law that the border feds currently operate under. I guess I knew this, but it bears reminding. Excerpt:

    "...border security has always been the highest prerogative of sovereignty. Immune from judicial interference, it answers to no warrant requirement. At the border, the federal government does not need probable cause — or any cause at all — to inquire into a person’s citizenship, immigration status, or purpose for attempting to enter our country. Agents can detain immigrants and citizens alike."

  4. Kreniigh:

    To PrivacyNotRequired: You keep referring to the Govt "asking for ID". See how your argument works when you instead say it will "ask you for ID and arrest you if you cannot provide it." And extend that to include the fact that your fellow citizens are able to *compel* the Govt to do this to you, and sue the Govt if they do not.

  5. Jim Collins:

    I would be curious to see if Ms. Lithwick supports DUI checkpoints? I'll bet she does. This is what cracks me up about Liberals. It is OK to suspend someone's rights if you agree with the reason. Right now I have no sympathy for illegal aliens. I agree that our immigration laws need overhauled, but, until they are, they are the law. If the Federal government would do their job and either enforce the laws or CHANGE the laws, then there wouldn't be as much of a problem.

  6. Che is dead:

    The AZ law requires that the request for proof of legal residence follow a lawful interaction with the police. The AZ police are not going to be stopping people on the street and demanding I.D..

    In the normal course of events, this law would not have been necessary. It's imposition, and it's impact on the daily life of the people of Arizona, is just another cost associated with unrestrained illegal immigration.

  7. me:

    The ID debate to me is more of a symptom than the cause. Police in this country habitually step onto individual freedoms (ever had a cop pull a gun on you and start shouting at you right off the start in a traffic stop for "it looked to me like you were sticking to the left side of the lane too much"?)

  8. Ringo:

    I think the question of voluntary vs. compulsory is the most important one. If you want to see a place where the thinking diverges that is it.

    In regard to traffic stops, like it or not, that is a different case. Operating a motor vehicle on a public (state owned?) roadway is, as far as I know, against the law in every state in the US. The mere fact of doing so is more than grounds for probable cause arguments. Asking for a driver's lisc. is merely offering you the opportunity to show that you are a member of a class exempted from the law before arresting you.

    Mind, I'm not advocating for the situation necessarily, but it's important to remember that when a lisc. is required, it means that it is against the law to begin with. Arguing that it is easy or inexpensive (frequently it isn't) to be exempted or even necessary for public safety (or incumbent protection), doesn't change the fact that it is against the law to engage in that act.

  9. Elliot:


  10. caseyboy:

    I am headed for Arizona next week to, in my own humble way, attempt to offset some of the boycotting efforts of the elites. The attitude of people who expect the worst from our law enforcement officers is reminiscent of the days when soon to be elites called the police "pigs". Being a cop is a thankless job where enforcing the law almost always makes at least 1 person angry. I trust them to do their best and most will do just fine. Are there a couple bad apples out there? Sure. But I'll accept a few bruised egos over rampant lawlessness. After all you have to scrabble a few eggs to make an omelet.


  11. MJ:

    All the rancor over this law reminded me of a great Utah Phillips line I once heard:

    "Sir, I don't much care for your laws. The good people don't need 'em, and the bad people won't follow 'em."

    I'll leave it up to the "good" people of Arizona to figure out who the bad people are in this case.

  12. ADiff:

    Given the overwhelming predilection of courts to accept statistical evidence as prima facie grounds for proceeding with suits claiming racial or cultural discrimination, whatever the eventual outcomes, I predict a vast increase in the legal expenses of the State of Arizona in the near future.

    There's no such thing a free lunch, but don't ya' think it a good idea to at least make sure you're actually even getting anything for yer money?

  13. John O.:

    Requesting an ID is an intrusion if there's no reasonable necessity, however it is necessary while driving as its to prove you have the required license to operate a motor vehicle; it is because of a bad social convention that a request for a drivers license is a request for ID. The purpose getting a drivers license is to ensure you can properly operate a vehicle and to hold you responsible to continually to operate vehicles without endangering the public. However over a period of decades, became an official state document of identity as almost everybody after World War II had a drivers license and was a convenient way for our delegated policemen to get a person's identity, its become the de facto standard of a identification card. One of the STUPIDEST laws that exists in every state is that requesting an official state ID means you lose your driving privileges; as possessing a state ID voids any drivers license you may have obtained. (All state IDs are pretty much issued by the same department or bureau as drivers licenses.)

    I wonder how many people remember the days when a drivers license didn't have a photograph on it. Back then your identity was accepted by the state by your birth certificate (assuming you had one) and from friends, family and those you did business with. But this is no longer the case as our delegated officials have become paranoid over issues that only make the bad social convention worse. Remember the road to hell is always paved with good intentions and whether we like it or not we're all on board because we refuse to recognize the problem at the level where it really exists.

    -- John O.

  14. IgotBupkis:

    I'm going to post this across a number of these immigration threads so that many will see it. I dunno how many people go back and look at older ones. Sorry if this is perceived as spam, but I think it's a good idea to understand how this wave of immigration compares to prior ones.

    It's a 2009 NYT interactive chart of census data showing immigration trends since 1880-2000 for any available data (some years data are absent, cf. Cuba-1930). You can narrow it down to specific nationalities and scan by decade for the period covered. It acks a "group" notion by color coding, etc., but unfortunately lacks any way to get collective info about that group -- you either have nations or "all".

    Immigration Chart

    In particular, compare the Italian or Russian immigrations of the past (I'm not sure Irish is a fair comparison, since many of the Irish entered before 1880) with that of "Mexico" starting in the 1960s. Notice how they built up to a far lower point, compared to population, than Mexico has, and Mexico shows NO sign of waning after 50 years, unlike those, which fall off noticeably after around 40-odd years.

    Warren's comparison of this wave to previous ones is vastly under-appreciative of the magnitude of this influx as a proportion to the population as a whole. People sense this, and here's DATA to show their concern is hardly inappropriate.

    H/T: No Oil For Pacifists

    He also apparently found one that breaks it down by profession. I haven't looked at that one just yet.