A Tale of Two Hoovers

by L. Neil Smith

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Okay, what’ve we got here?

The other day, the Federal Communications Commission gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation “new authority to tap digital and wireless phones”. Justice Department functionaries are reportedly delighted. Privacy advocates and local phone companies are “bitterly disappointed”.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, suppose I gave my good friend, the brilliant columnist Vin Supryinowicz “new authority” to rummage around in the underwear drawer of our esteemed colleague (and equally brilliant columnist) Claire Wolfe? She might well ask us by what right he and I are depriving her of her most intimate privacy — just before she drops the hammer on a heavy-caliber sixgun, consigning both of us to Peeping Vin and Neil heaven.

Pretty clearly, that kind of authority simply isn’t mine to give, not to Vin or to anybody else. And just as clearly — to me, anyway, and I suspect to you — that kind of authority isn’t the FCC’s to give, especially to those fine upstanding law enforcement paragons who murdered 22 babies and 60 other innocents at Mount Carmel. The few idiots I know who would take Miss Hardyville 2000 to task for shooting Vin and me all voted for George McGovern and collect fat government checks.

So anyway, now they’re going to listen in on our cell phones — as if they hadn’t been already — right along with tapping our landlines, breaking our encryption, peeking in our windows, and rummaging through our garbage. (Mine contains several wet, smelly pounds of used cat litter every week. When I get politically depressed, it’s uplifting to remember that human beings can catch and die of several ugly feline diseases.)

The Federal Communications Commission is a prototypical horror story of incrementalism and “mission creep”, created by Congress in 1934 during the administration of Roosevelt II, but having existed since the 20s in the form of a “Federal Radio Commission”, jawboned to life by then Secretary of Commerce (and later President) Herbert Hoover.

There had been a panic-button 1912 licensing law on the heels of the sinking of the Titanic. In 1917, the instant that the outbreak of World War I gave them something that looked like justification, the government had shut down and seized the equipment of thousands of licensed amateur operators citing what would later be called “national security”.

Contrary to lies spread for decades by the left, Hoover was no champion of the market system, but a right wing socialist who hated and feared what he viewed as the chaos (meaning freedom) in which the market operates. Using overlapping and conflicting frequency use as an excuse (in fact, all those problems of mutual interference had already been worked out by the fledgling radio industry), and an unsupportable assertion that the “airwaves” are the property of the people (meaning the government) rather than of the inventors and entrepreneurs who had learned how to use them, Hoover seized authoritarian control of the medium.

And we wonder today what ever happened to the First Amendment.

Fighters for internet freedom take note.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sneaked into existence (there is no such word as “snuck”, nor is “dove” the correct past tense of “dive” — ahhh, I feel much better already) in almost exactly the same manner as the FCC, establishing America’s first European-style secret police organization and forcibly reminding us of the self-destructive stupidity of accepting even the most innocent-looking compromise with authority.

It all started in 1908, when Roosevelt I created something called the Bureau of Investigation to look into Idaho land schemes and “white slavery”. The “BI” went into the next decade to conduct “slacker raids” against draft dodgers, and wage war on political radicals and those with the temerity to compete with government-approved socialism. A nasty-minded little BI clerk with a sick penchant for prying into other people’s private lives (apparently because he had none of his own) compiled 450,000 dossiers on individuals he suspected of being Communists.

That nasty little clerk was John Edgar Hoover, who rapidly rose to second bananahood, and finally to temporary directorship of the BI, which eventually became the Federal BI in 1927, with Hoover at the helm, investigating “enemy aliens”, Communists, and other chronic over-users of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments. Even the most superficial reading of the friendliest biography of the Director will establish that there is no way known to science or theology to weigh a soul as small and shriveled as that of J. Edgar Hoover who, as one source pointed out, invented the process of taking “administrative action” to overcome tiresome Constitutional objections to the Bureau’s activities.

What’s being missed in all this hoohah — the most important (and ironic) point — is what we have here is one completely illegal and unconstitutional gang of criminals generously bestowing upon another completely illegal and unconstitutional gang of criminals a power to violate the rights of individuals that neither has — or ever had — the legitimate authority to possess or exercise, let alone pass on to others.

Usually, we of the freedom movement are happy if we can just lean on agencies like these and make them stop whatever they’re up to, a case in point being the so-called “Know Your Customer Policy” under which banks were supposed spy on the people who (sort of) trust them, and report to the federales anything they think is unusual or suspect. This time, however, talking them out of it is not enough — as current attempts to revive some of Bill Clinton’s nastier executive decrees demonstrate.

This time it has to cost them something, or they’ll be right back with something even worse than what they’ve just gotten away with.

Just as no nation with a Second Amendment in its Constitution has any place for a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, no nation with a First Amendment has any place for a Federal Communications Commission. And because the security of this particular nation is its freedom, there’s no place for an agency like the FBI, the sole purpose of which is to curtail that freedom in the name of national security.

Try this experiment now. Tell everyone you argue with on the net, say it to radio talk show hosts, even write it your congressthing: under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, the very existence of the FBI and FCC is illegal and they must be abolished at once. Go further and say that it’s this recent collusion between the wielders of the national gag and the fabulous baby incinerators that got you thinking maybe it was time to bring them into Bill of Rights compliance.

Which in their case means non-existence.

One is the legacy of Herbert Hoover.

One is the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover.

And like all Hoovers, they both suck.


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for Number 55, September 15, 1999

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