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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Angela Merkel's Scylla and Charybdis

This morning I listened to public radio's excellent editorialist's comment on Angela Merkel's decision to buy that list of tax evaders that some well connected computer hacker has put up for sale for a very comfy sum. (whew, too many apostrophes there, but it shows you I'm an ace, right ?)
I can't give you a link for this subject, because it's all in French, but I presume that at least ONE anglo-american financial rag will pick up on this because, dum de dum de dum, there is a certain interest in this kind of subject in financial quarters, wonder why ??
A few observations...
This list was stolen. (Stealing is illegal, and theft is one of those very BASIC acts that appears in the Ten Commandments, even, which are a FAR CRY from the regulations governing which side of the road you park on during the week. Theft tends to seriously destroy trust, and destabilize societies. That's why there is a practically universal consensus against it.)
It was obtained by illegaly invading personal liberty.
And the person who obtained it wants $$$$$ (oops, probably €€€€, who wants those greenbacks these days ? what a liability...) as payment for it.
Ironically enough, it is the RIGHT which is "morally" uncomfortable about buying this document. The German RIGHT is disturbed about the Government's right to acquire information obtained by illegal means. The LEFT says... let's go for it. (Yeah, well, we can be sympathetic ; elections are coming up in Germany... I think.)
My questions do not fall into a totally predictable pattern...
Why should the government have to BUY that list ? (* Update : I forgot that this illegally obtained info is the "property"---how much can you be entitled to what you have stolen in the first place, we'll let that dog lie at this time --- of a French citizen which admittedly complicates the matter a lot.)
Does the fact of legally and consensually acquiring information obtained by illegal means exonerate you from ill doing ? On the other hand, should the government be held to respect the law in the same way as a citizen is held to do so ? Isn't there a difference between the two ? To what extent IS the government LOGICALLY above the law ? Why or why not ?
Why not just... GRAB the list ? Invoke national interest, or something along those lines ?
If you're government, and you're above the law, what's going to stop you from GRABBING that list ?
Now... don't think for ONE MINUTE that I think that this is a good idea.
Because I think that openly sanctioning the government's "RIGHT" to enter into a contractual arrangement with someone who has violated the law is VERY VERY DANGEROUS PRECEDENT. Particularly since the government itself tends to violate the law anyway, WITH OR WITHOUT OUR KNOWLEDGE AND/OR ENCOURAGEMENT. (Look at the Fisa fiasco.)
So... just HOW MUCH do WE want to get our hands on those "bad guys" ? (Of course, we want to get our hands on them so that we can "get" their MONEY...)
And have we thought about the fact that our INFANTILE desire to punish all those bad guys (and WE are NEVER the bad guys, it doesn't work that way) is what FUELS the government's motivation to extend its power to curtail our liberties ?
Punish the bad guys/protect us.
How MUCH of our liberties are we willing to trade off, to sacrifice in order to get those "bad guys", punish them, and be protected ? Can't have them thar advantages without having the accompanying... disadvantages.
Delenda Government. Delenda Money.
The German government's ACCEPTANCE to pay MONEY for this list is a subtle statement that its leaders have accepted that... MONEY has more power and legitimacy than government.
I wonder if Angela Merkel realizes this...
Now... maybe this is a GOOD thing, after all : the civilizing effect of money on our exchanges. The substitution of payment of money for the violent application of brute force ?
The problem being what happens when money becomes the measure of ALL things, and confers automatic legitimacy.

Ahh, the joys of tripping merrily down the path to dictatorship.
Too bad we don't seem to learn from our collective mistakes.
Because somehow we don't believe that it could EVER happen to U.S.
I welcome your comments, particularly if you think I am missing something here. (I have rewritten this post a number of times, finding answers to the questions I was asking, which in turn provoked new questions...)


OkieLawyer said...


Let me put my lawyer hat on for you. Evidence that is illegally obtained is admissible as long as the police themselves do not do it, or have someone else do it for them. Of course, this is American law -- not German.

This is an exception to the Exclusionary Rule. See BURDEAU v. MCDOWELL, 256 U.S. 465 (1921) (Evidence unlawfully obtained from the defendant by a private person is admissible. The exclusionary rule is designed to protect privacy rights, with the Fourth Amendment applying specifically to government officials.)

Maybe that explains Angela Merkel's actions.

That, and the fact that they can "follow the money" to the hacker.

Debra said...

Yes, but Okie... to what extent is that list evidence, vs.. property, for example ?
I did this too quickly ; I'm not sure there is a problem with computer hacking involved, but it appears to be a case of someone in a privileged position wanting to whistle blow to get his hands on a lot of filthy lucre. Not an amateur or professional hacker, but an insider. The government knows who it's dealing with, and this is not a problem.

Debra said...

LOL, I looked at your Wikipedia article about the exclusionary rule.
It was certainly written long after my day.
It has great ideological bias in it.
What happens when "evidence" is property ? Who does it "belong to" ?
This situation looks a little different from the jurisprudence in the article.

OkieLawyer said...


Think evidence of tax evasion.

And under U.S. law, the government can sue against seized money. It is not unusual to see lawsuits entitled U.S. v. $25000.00 or something to that effect.

Thai said...

Hey Okie, I hope the beach is treating you well?

Deb, great post.

I have no answer to this quandary as it is another one of those "a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet" or "zero-sum" issues that entirely on one's viewpoint.
we did, then what we currently see would not exist.

You rightfully smell Totalitarianism in this, the person who sees this as the right thing to do sees totalitarianism in not doing it.

The is no absolute answer as to who is right.

Personally I am a fan of English Common law and I am willing to accept that we follows its rules.

Thai said...

I have thought on this a bit an I think that in general I agree with the Exclusionary rule.

If I were a judge I would set it up this way as well.

This is in many ways no different that the issues of freedom of speech that constantly come up in various forms.

Edwardo said...

From a legal standpoint, this is about one of the most muck infested quagmires imaginable. Having said that, I agree, Deb, with your homing in on the issue of "evidence as property."

Merkel is a politician, which in practical terms means she will do what is most advantageous to her position, regardless of the legal or moral issues. That is the essence of the vast majority of most politician's standard of behavior, and plump little fraulein Merkel doesn't strike me as any exception.

Suffice it to say, Deb, that, with respect to this issue, I think you have done a solid job of excavating the salient issues.

Debra said...

LOL, Okie, your answer is why I send everyone packing to read the Merchant of Venice.
The law is... a psychotic phenomenon.
It takes logic SO far that it is illogical, irrational.
I read up quite a bit to try to understand all the intricacies of death penalty law/legislation, and it was a dry, dusty world, there, the world of the law...

Thai said...

Deb, I thought you'd enjoy.

Debra said...

Goody Thai, thanks for the link, I don't have time for it right now, but I will savor it.
Edwardo, your praise has given me warm feelings. Thanks.

Debra said...

I read through the link, Thai.
Check out an article on the home page about how information is disseminated in social networking.
It throws a loop in commonly held to be true hub ideas.

Thai said...

I thought you all might smile at this (of course our smiles originate from different viewpoints).

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