The Road Already Taken

Webcomic Storyline: 

Comic Transcript: 

JUDGE: After having heard what I'm sure you think are well-reasoned and fully fleshed out arguments in favor of your position, I've decided to deny your request.

JUDGE: The Court has reasonably decided it has an interest in ensuring it has access to the evidence it needs to reach a responsible conclusion. Therefore, you are enjoined from doing anything that will result in the destruction of said evidence.

FED: Well, I guess the Court has spoken.

JUDGE: Yes it has. Now please turn over all the evidence that is relevant to this case so we can move forward.

FED: Can't. We destroyed it.

JUDGE: ... I just ordered you NOT to.

FED: This is embarrassing.

JUDGE: Embarrassing? Son, we just spent the last two weeks arguing over a court order you've already defied! What on earth would cause you to behave in such a fashion?

FED: Mostly? We were pretty sure we'd win.


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Welp, I guess that means he

Welp, I guess that means he has no choice but to shut down the NSA because they destroyed any possible evidence that they had been complying with Constitutional restrictions on search and seizure... ;)

We can only hope.

We can only hope.

I would like to know if the

I would like to know if the NSA has a copy of all those missing IRS emails.  That would certainly make things interesting.

Hmm.  If it weren't extremely

Hmm.  If it weren't extremely unlikely, I'd want the NSA to do the correct thing -- rebuild a harddrive with the missing emails, then surreptitiously swap the broken one with the loaded one, which some judge hopefully releases for a third party to attempt data recovery (where it's then discovered).

. -- Scott

That's not the correct thing.

That's not the correct thing.

The correct thing is for the NSA to admit that they violate the 4th and 5th amendments of the Constitution and to put independently verifiable safeguards in place to ensure it doesn't happen again.

There is no other thing that I will accept as correct.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Although I agree (at least

Although I agree (at least somewhat) with the idea that the NSA shouldn't do those things, I'm not really sure that admitting it is in everyone's best interests.  I mean, really, Google and Yahoo and Amazon and Microsoft have been doing that kind of stuff too for years (possibly longer than the NSA), and they're already using their knowledge for the somewhat evil purpose of targeting advertising to you -- where else could that lead?

Right now, I'm much more worried that the IRS, which is supposed to be non-partisan and generally evil to everyone, has taken on a political agenda, and is working with/for the current administration to the detriment of more than half the population that doesn't agree with those currently in power.  I believe you said you support campaign finance reform (which I also support), and the IRS (in its current incarnation) would likely not want to help that succeed, if it can do anything to stop it.

(I don't really want to be political here (except where it's funny, like in the strip); it's likely we may have to agree to disagree.)

. -- Scott

I'm not nearly as worried

I'm not nearly as worried about the IRS. First, the "political agenda" that everyone is shouting about has turned out not to be so one-sided as Issa claims -- in fact it's been shown that they put the screws to both Conservative and Liberal political groups. Second, while it's pretty obvious that they're in full CYA mode, it's a lot easier to place them under scrutiny and the guy they brought in knows this.

Ultimately, the NSA is the organization that can do far more damage with far less accoutability. Fixing them is in everyone's interest. The current furor over the IRS at this point is nothing more than partisan showboating and I'll be honest I don't have any patience with the idea that they're worse. I understand there are people who disagree with me, and everyone who does is absolutely free to do so, but I will never be convinced.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

I have my concerns about the

I have my concerns about the NSA as well, but I have always had a problem with exclusion of valid evidence to the detriment of justice and the general welfare of the public.  While I believe it appropriate for disciplinary action, possibly severe, to be taken for those who violate the current standards of gathering evidence it is hardly in the public interest for a criminal to escape the consequences of a heinous crime.  I have heard of far too many cases where charges have to be dropped where there was no doubt about the guilt of the felon as evidence was excluded on a technicality through an unknowing violation on the part of law enforcement officers.  Whose interest is served in such a case?  I would argue it would be more appropriate to include evidence gathered in good faith, even if not within technical adherence to the current guidelines, with disciplinary action taken to ensure no similar errors are made in the future.  Our definition of "reasonable" has changed so many times it is hardly surprising that those in the field have difficulty staying within the ever changing confines of the guidelines.

I should also note that I am not exactly thrilled with private firms such as Google and Microsoft tracking and recording data.  I can understand the potential need for the NSA to "connect the dots" after the fact using the metadata of telephone calls and email traffic.  This data is also being kept by the carriers, so it is only a question of how quickly such data can be analyzed in the case of an emergency.

This capability and the others the NSA has can certainly be abused, arguing for stringent oversight of their use of such techniques.  If there is sufficient and appropriate oversight abuse should be minimal and what does occur should result in quick disciplinary action.

Perhaps I am a dreamer, but I would like to think that such tools can be used appropriately to prevent a future catastrophe.  I for one am extremely wary of Iran's progress towards nuclear weapons and their sponsorship of groups more than willing to sacrifice lives provided they can take more of ours.  Those of us who would like more than to live in peace with all others need to keep in mind there are those who do not share such a philosophy.

Whose interest is served in

Whose interest is served in such a case? 

I'll tell you whose interest is served: the defendent who is innocent but facing tumped-up charges based on evidence that was obtained illegally and tampered with. This is not a hypothetical scenario. People in power are corruptible and safeguards need to be in place to deal with that.

Whatever your concern that guilty people may walk free when procedure isn't followed, that procedure is supposed to be in place to make sure that evidence is collected ethically and that the people in the investigation can damn well prove they collected it ethically, so they can prove to the citizens that they are not going around artibrarily arresting people on the grounds that they're unpopular or looked at someone crosseyed or just managed to piss them off on a random Tuesday. And if lawmakers and police and spy agencies aren't held to those standards and raked over hot fucking coals every time they reach too farthen we are screwed because we nevermind the people in other countries who hate us, we'll have people in our own country who can do whatever the hell they want to us and get away with it.

So basically this is my stance on the issue: if they can't play by the rules they shouldn't be allowed to play. This isn't a TV show and we don't need edgy hotshots who play loose and fast with the system in order to "do what needs to be done." This is real life where real, innocent people get screwed over by people who play loose and fast with the system and it's not worth offering up real, innocent people as sacrifical lambs just so we can get more bad guys. If you think it is worth it then you need to know right now there is a chasm between us that will never be filled and can never be crossed. That kind of attitude makes for great stories but it makes for lousy life. In stories those guys are heroes, in real life those guys are fucking monsters and all they do is bring misery to people who don't have it coming and have no power to do anything about it. And while they do that they drag down the people who are doing the same job and trying to do it right, because along with actually doing the job right they now have to try to patch over everything their "wild card" co-workers are destroying.

I try very hard to keep (most) of my politics out of my comic and out of my site but if there was ever a time politics made me want to quit doing Help Desk in disgust it has been now. Watching everyone go to pieces about the IRS over exactly half of what they did (since no one seems at all interested in the left-leaning groups that were targeted in the same way) while completely ignoring that this is a problem that has stretched back well into the previous administration is entertaining political theater, I suppose, but I notice that most of the elected officials who are up in arms over what the IRS is doing are also calling Edward Snowden a traitor, so seriously? Fuck those guys.

An unelected part of our government is actively spying on its citizens in direct violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution while ANOTHER unelected part of our government is cheerfully in the process of dismantling net neutrality while ANOTHER unelected part of our government is giving corporate entities more direct rights and privileges than flesh-and-blood citizens. The Internet is now almost completely privately owned, which means it is no longer anything resembling a "public commons" and we can no longer legally have any expectations of free speech while we use it.1 Meanwhile our public commons are actually being restricted to free speech zones so you can't even go outside the gates of the people who are pissing you off to protest. No, now in order to exercise your right of free speech you are cordoned off in a cellar with no lights or stairs next to a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard."2

Seriously, it's enough to make me want to pack it all in. I haven't, yet, but these days every time I sit down to do a comic I stare at the screen and I think "what is the point?" and I wander away and do something else. Because what is the point? I don't see it today.

I might see it tomorrow. But I don't see it today.

  • 1. We still use it as if we did, though. That's inertia at work. But privatising the Internet without giving it any kind of common carrier status means we are basically playing in someone else's playground, and someday the rules we're sued to are going to change, and not for our benefit.
  • 2. Thank you Douglas Adams.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

<blockquote>The Internet is

The Internet is now almost completely privately owned, which means it is no longer anything resembling a "public commons" and we can no longer legally have any expectations of free speech while we use it.

But AFAIK that's not really new; unless you're thinking of something else, it's been that way since the plug was pulled on NSFNet not long after the dawn of the HTTP era, and the reality is that NSFNet had far tighter content restrictions than the private operators do. And the NSA activities everyone has been so in arms about are also, albeit broader in scale, not particularly new: the NSA has had taps on every voice line going in and out of the USA for years, a fact I was informed of in college in the 80's by that noted left-wing activist G. Gordon Liddy1.

  • 1. Kids, please look him up or you'll miss the sarcasm.