Your Innocence Is No Protection
If you complain that a government plan to fight crime threatens everyone’s freedom, you may hear the age-old retort:
“If you aren’t guilty, you have nothing to fear.”
If only that were so. The truth is that innocence is no protection at all against government agencies with the power to do what they think best
— or against a government agent hoping for promotion and willing to do whatever he can get away with. Tell a businessman he has nothing to fear from the piles of forms he must file to prove he doesn’t discriminate. Tell a home owner he has nothing to fear when his property is seized by the government in a mistaken — or contrived — drug raid. Tell a taxpayer he has nothing to fear when the IRS drags him into a “taxpayer compliance” audit that eats up a week of his life, costs him thousands of dollars in accounting fees, and threatens him with unbearable penalties.
It is the innocent who suffer most from government’s intrusions.
How many times have we seen the following pattern?
1. The press and politicians demand that something be done about violent crime, terrorist acts, drug dealing, tax evasion, or whatever is the Urgent Concern of the Month.
2. A tough, new, take-no-prisoners law or policy is put into place.
3. After the dust settles, the initial “problem” continues unabated, because the guilty continue to slip through the net. But the innocent are left burdened with new chores, expenses, and hazards — more mandatory reports to file, less privacy, reduced access to products and services, higher costs, heavier taxes, and a new set of penalties for those who shirk their duty to fight in the War on ___________ (fill in the blank).
4. And, needless to say, the ineffectual law is never repealed.
Being innocent doesn’t allow you to ignore the government’s demands for reports — or to say “No, thanks” when a government agent wants to search your records, your place of business, or your home — or to refuse to observe regulations that were aimed at the guilty, not you.
When coercion is used to solve social problems, we all suffer. The coercion fails to achieve its stated aims, but it is wondrously effective at harming the innocent. Even worse, every year a few million innocent people suffer special burdens — greater than those the government places on all of us. The dismantling of the Bill of Rights has allowed the government to disrupt their lives, confiscate their property, or even kill them — even though they’ve committed no crimes. I hope you never become one of them.