The End of the Bill of Rights is at Our Fingertips

English: Fingerprint detail on male finger. Če...
Fingerprint detail on male finger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently got my first “smart phone” (I’ve been a late adopter in that particular area of technology). One of the first things I noticed about it was that I could use my fingerprint, rather than a pesky pass code, to unlock it. Much more convenient, isn’t it? A password can be forgotten, but it takes pretty severe physical trauma to lose one’s fingerprint. If your hand gets cut off, your phone is the least of your worries, right?

Unfortunately, the convenience of “biometric” identification comes with a cost. When you take that route, at least two judges (first a Virginia circuit court judge and now a federal judge in California) have ruled, you can be forced to put your finger on the phone to unlock it.

This has serious and unfortunate implications for rights protected by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution.

Fourth Amendment: Even when there’s a valid search warrant for a premises — or a phone — actually executing the warrant is law enforcement’s job, not yours. If the door is locked, they can break it down, but you don’t have to unlock it for them. If they find your hidden compartment full of evidence, they find it. But you don’t have to show them where it is, or even tell them that it exists. And that’s how it should be.

Fifth Amendment: Giving the police access to your phone is no different than telling them about every call you made, every text you sent, every note you wrote, etc. It is testifying against yourself, which you cannot constitutionally be required to do.

The usual response from proponents of unlimited state power  to such arguments is that the framers of the US Constitution couldn’t possibly have imagined a future of “smart phones,” unbreakable encryption, and so forth.

Maybe they’re right. But what the framers COULD imagine was the possibility that the Constitution would require occasional amendments to keep up with changing times. Those who want to repeal the Fourth and Fifth Amendments have clear instructions for doing so. All they need is the support of two thirds of both houses of Congress and ratification by three quarters of the states’ legislatures. A high bar, but not at all unclear.

Until and unless that happens — and it won’t — resist much, obey little. And secure your phone with a long and complex pass code, not with your fingerprint.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Want to Save the Elephants and Rhinos? Privatize Ivory and Horns

Ivory trade, East Africa, 1880s/1890s Some sli...
Ivory trade, East Africa, 1880s/1890s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Kenyan park rangers piled up thousands of elephant tusks and rhino horns to burn on Saturday (April 30),” reports Reuters, “sending a message to poachers and smugglers that their trade will be stopped.”

Well, no. The message this operation sends to poachers and smugglers is “we’re driving the price up for you —  make hay while the sun shines.”

It’s simple economics: When rangers burn 105 tons of ivory and a ton of rhino horns, they reduce supply versus demand.

Sure, the poachers and smugglers who got CAUGHT take a hit to the wallet, but the others can now jack up their prices. The near-term opportunity for increased profit means they’ll send out more hunting teams and smuggle more product until the demand differential the government action created dissipates, supply and demand come back into equilibrium, and prices settle down.

If governments are serious about reducing poaching and smuggling,  and saving shrinking populations of elephants and rhinos, there’s a simple and nearly foolproof way to go about it: Instead of fattening the bank accounts of poachers and smugglers, auction off  harvesting rights to ivory from elephants and horns from rhinos who have died natural deaths.

The buyers of those harvesting rights will, in their own self-interest, get very good, very quickly, at protecting their investments. They’ll hire their own rangers to keep poachers and smugglers at bay. And they’ll do so at their own expense instead of milking taxpayers.

Does this ersatz “privatization” get the job done? Yes. As CBS News’s 60 Minutes reported in 2012, some African species which are endangered or extinct in their original habitats are thriving under private ownership in the United States. The owners profit by selling limited hunting privileges in numbers that don’t stop the herds from growing. Animal rights activists dislike the practice, but there’s no doubt it’s successful if the lone goal is increasing an endangered species’ numbers.

As a libertarian, I support real privatization of, well, everything — no government involvement; preferably, no government. In a free society, wild animals would constitute a source of profit to the owners of the lands they roam, and would therefore be deemed worthy of protection by those owners (which might be cooperatives or communities rather than individuals or corporations).

We can let markets work, or we can make ourselves feel good by letting governments burn ivory and horns while the world’s elephant and rhino populations continue to dwindle toward zero.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


The Problem With Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”

English: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in...
English: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In March, an open letter from 121 Republican “national security leaders” characterized GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s foreign policy vision as “wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle,” swinging “from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.”

While it’s always wise to take proclamations from the people who brought us the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with a grain of salt, in this case they were right — and Trump himself proved it with his speech before the Center for National Interest on April 27.

“America First,” says Trump,  “will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”

Some non-interventionists, especially those of a libertarian bent, cheer the use of that phrase, thinking back to the movement to keep the US out of World War II and even to Thomas Jefferson’s proclaimed policy of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

But neither of those remotely resemble Trump’s position, to the extent that he has a coherent position at all. Only two sentences after dropping the America First name, he lauds US interventionism in World War II and 45 years of  Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Later in the speech Trump condemns open trade lanes with other nations, complaining about a “manufacturing trade deficit” and  China’s “economic assault on America’s jobs and wealth” and proposing the most damaging version of international trade war since the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act helped crash the US economy and usher in the Great Depression. So much for commerce and honest friendship.

And what about peace? Trump calls for US allies to increase their military spending while claiming that America’s own military — still by far the most expensive and powerful in the history of the world and the single largest line item in the federal budget — has been “weakened” and must be rebuilt.  This is not a proposal that NATO stand up while the US stands down — he calls for an escalation, not a drawdown, of military force.

Trump supports continued US intervention in the Middle East, including an obligatory tip of the hat to America’s “special relationship” with Israel, but he doesn’t support “nation-building.” In English that means he isn’t giving up on having the US armed forces run around the world killing people and breaking things; he’s only against trying to put the victim nations back together again afterward.

“Wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle” indeed. But it’s a heck of a personal branding escapade. Trump is just a run of the mill — if visibly unstable and irrational —  hawk trying to pass himself as the peace candidate. And it’s working, at least among people who believe me when I tell them the word “gullible” is written on the ceiling.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.