Balance Sheet

Assets

Busted! The Supreme Court gives the Fourth Amendment a much-needed boost in, of all things, a drug case. An Iowa law lets cops search the cars of drivers cited for routine traffic offenses. Surprisingly, the justices say cops overreached when they searched a speeder's car, even though they found pot in the vehicle.

Boomer Time? Bill Clinton may make his mark on history for something other than impeachment. He rules out Social Security tax increases and says some of the Social Security funds should be invested in the private market. Republicans won't let the government do the investing, making some form of individual Social Security accounts likely.

Duplicate Efforts. Blanket opposition to cloning fades, as Japanese scientists report cloning eight calves from the cells of one adult cow. And in early December, a government-appointed panel of British scientists urges the Blair administration to overturn its ban on human embryo research. The panel says human fetal tissue should be used to create replacement body parts.

Net Debt. U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed puts the Child Online Protection Act on hold. Reed issues a temporary restraining order, saying the act, which prohibits commercial Internet sites from publishing material that might be "harmful to minors," a much broader standard than "obscene," could violate the First Amendment. A challenge to the law should go to trial on January 20.

Liability

Private Ayes. The Clinton administration further hamstrings Internet privacy and electronic commerce with new export controls on data-scrambling encryption programs. Under the guise of arms control, the United States and 32 other countries agree to ban the export of state-of-the-art encryption, including software you can buy off the shelf from many retailers.

Bank Dicks. In other privacy news, the feds try to turn bankers into spies. Regulations proposed by the Federal Reserve would force bankers to track customers' "normal" transactions and report "suspicious" activities. Everything from selling your car to switching your 401(k) could make you a criminal suspect.

Be Nice, Eh? Canada considers a hate speech law that would make U.S. campus censors proud. (See "Codes of Silence," November.) A federal advisory group pushes a law that would make it a crime to possess materials "for the purpose of distribution to promote hate." British Columbia has already enacted the code. One obnoxious newspaper writer has been dragged in front of the province's Human Rights Tribunal for his cranky columns.

Post Awful. Happy 1999: A first-class letter now sets you back 33 cents. The Hudson Institute's Thomas Duestenberg says that's four times what it cost in real terms 30 years ago. By contrast, over the same period the cost of long-distance calls has fallen by 88 percent.

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