The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion. – Edmund Burke
The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is a very ancient one; traces of it appear in the Book of Deuteronomy, and some scholars have written that it can be found in both Athenian and Spartan legal codes. It is clearly stated many, many times in Roman law, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision Coffin vs. United States quotes this episode of a trial before the Emperor Julian:
Numerius, the governor of Narbonensis, was on trial [for embezzlement] before the Emperor, and, contrary to the usage in criminal cases, the trial was public. Numerius contented himself with denying his guilt, and there was not sufficient proof against him. His adversary, Delphidius, “a passionate man,” seeing that the failure of the accusation was inevitable, could not restrain himself, and exclaimed, “Oh, illustrious Caesar! If it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?” to which Julian replied, “If it suffices to accuse, what will become of the innocent?”
The principle was first clearly codified in post-Roman law by Cardinal Lemoine in the 13th century using the Latin phrase, Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies”) and it is one of the pillars of English common law and through it, American law; it appears in the majority of law codes in the Western world. But now this 3000-year-old principle is under assault in the United States, and for what? So that the government can force every single adult with internet access (even those without children) to prove he (or she) hasn’t been looking at dirty pictures, just in case a child should wander into his house, accidentally call up a picture of a nipple and thereby cause his brain to explode due to rapid-onset “premature sexualization”. Take a look at this July 12th article from Reason:
Have you heard about The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011? It’s the latest in a l-o-n-g line of just terrible bills proposed to calm (though never quite eliminate) the fears of middle-aged people about what that scary Internet might potentially do to Our Children…Cato’s Jim Harper…[wrote], “This isn’t a bill about child predation. It’s a bald-faced attack on privacy and limited government.”
Meanwhile, former Reasoner Julian Sanchez (also of Cato) muses that “I guess the ‘You Are All Criminals Act’ didn’t have the same ring,” and provides some context:
Thanks to an unwise Supreme Court decision dating from the 70s, information about your private activities loses its Fourth Amendment protection when it’s held by a “third party” corporation, like a phone company or Internet provider. As many legal scholars have noted, however, this allows constitutional privacy safeguards to be circumvented via a clever two-step process. Step one: The government forces private businesses (ideally the kind a citizen in the modern world can’t easily avoid dealing with) to collect and store certain kinds of information about everyone—anyone might turn out to be a criminal, after all. No Fourth Amendment issue there, because it’s not the government gathering it! Step two: The government gets a subpoena or court order to obtain that information, quite possibly without your knowledge. No Fourth Amendment problem here either, according to the Supreme Court, because now they’re just getting a corporation’s business records, not your private records. It makes no difference that they’re only keeping those records because the government said they had to. Current law already allows law enforcement to require retention of data about specific suspects—including e-mails and other information as well as IP addresses—to ensure that evidence isn’t erased while they build up enough evidence for a court order. But why spearfish when you can lower a dragnet? Blanket data requirements ensure easy access to a year-and-a-half snapshot of the online activities of millions of Americans—every one a potential criminal…
You can’t even say you weren’t warned; have you ever taken the time to read one of those “privacy notices” everyone sends out nowadays? If you had, you would’ve discovered that it would be more appropriate to call them “lack of privacy notices”. The nutshell version: “We won’t give any information about you to anyone you actually want to have it, not even your spouse, but if anyone with an official title whom you absolutely don’t want to have that information so much as hints that he wants it, we’ll stick our arses in the air faster than you can say ‘Judas’ and give him everything he wants and more.” And if the “You Are All Criminals Act” is passed, the amount of information they can turn over about you – without your knowledge, consent or a proper warrant – will be dramatically increased.
Ah, well, that whole “presumption of innocence” thing was hopelessly old-fashioned anyway; how could any of those ignorant ancients possibly understand anything about sex and pornography and children and stuff?
One Year Ago Today
The second part of “Genesis of a Harlot”, the story of how a good little Catholic girl from south Louisiana turned into a whore.