Sunday, February 3, 2008

Freedom and laws

Lawyers and some people like to play the game of "freedom". It works like this - you compare the legal systems in two different countries (say Czech Republic and the USA) and decide which of them gives more freedom to its citizens. Most of the people and some economists, however, realize that the actual freedom depends on how the laws are actually enforced.

Say, for example, taking pictures on the public property (e.g. street in front of the railway station). If you make a picture in the CR, chances are that people will think that you are nuts to take picture of this old and ugly building but that's pretty much everything that can happen. In the US., the policeman comes and you have a conversation that goes somewhat like this.

Policeman:"Sir, what are you doing?"

You:"I'm taking the picture of this building, because I like it."

Policeman:"Sir, you can't take picture of this building, because of security reasons. Please erase it."

You:"Officer, I'm on a public property, so I have a right to make this picture"

Policeman:"Sir, unless you erase that picture, I will have to take you to the station."

The thought of habeas corpus, Guantanamo and/or a day spent in the police station goes through your head in a quick succession.

You:"OK, OK"

Policeman:"Thank you and have safe day"

In fact, you do have a right to take the picture. You also have the right to make a phone call that is not wire-tapped without court approval. But nobody really cares. So you in fact do not have this right. In contrast, there is a plenty of stupid rules in the Czech Republic that nobody really cares about, and nobody even knows about. Still, I doubt that we have as stupid rules as this one that are enforced very much.

It seems pretty obvious that the US walked a long way under GWB (but it's not just him. US Army was censoring letters of US citizens as documented by RP Feynman in this book "Surely you are joking, Mr. Feynman", during second world war). It will be very hard to get back the freedom and it might actually never happen. There are still some constraints that will hopefully prevent complete walk-away from democracy, but I'm not so sure.

In fact, after about 400 hundred years for which people from around the world immigrated to the US, I would expect some US citizens to emigrate in this century. Like this famous science fiction writer. Freedom may not mean much to many people, but it means a lot to some of them.