A piece on Twitter today made me think of the Second Amendment. Apparently, a Massachusetts DA used a subpoena to get information on some Twitter users, and then made the mistake of asking Twitter not to inform the user. Twitter promptly ignored the request to keep it secret, while still complying with the law by providing the user’s info.
What does this have to do with the Second Amendment (while steering clear of the politics)?
One of the key purposes of the Second Amendment was to counter balance the exclusive right to the use of force. While there is never any desire for civilians to rise up against the government, the very knowledge that government does not have an exclusivity on the means of force and violence would naturally curb its inherent tendency towards excess.
I am not an anarchist, nor one of those who believes that government and civilization are inherently evil. Hobbes was right, without organized civilization, life would be nasty, brutish and short. I do, however, recognize the foresight and understanding that the Founders had, that government, by its nature, would tend towards abuse of its power.
For some time, despite many well intentioned DAs, some, perhaps too many, have abused that power, in the self-interest of either power or political advancement. They do so safe in the knowledge that they pay no price for that abuse, as it normally does not make it to public knowledge.
The Twitter case shows how that power balance may be shifting. As key elements of behaviour that interest government shift online, government is attempting to use its tools – and abuse them – believing the old rules apply. While the tools can and should be used, and Twitter, Google, Facebook and the like should comply, officials need to know that the online communities communicate across large number of people, in many ways organized themselves, in seconds.
If the knowledge that officials no longer have a monopoly on organization, similar to its lack of monopoly on the use of force, in and of itself will curb abuses, then the Internet and social media have provided yet another invaluable service to society.