Civil Liberties

Predictions for 2008

The un-parodiable state of civil liberties in America


As the end of the year approaches, it's time for another column of government overreach predictions for the New Year. What outrageous, beyond-parody grabs at power and erosions of civil liberties will transpire in 2008? My predictions:

• The Bush administration will claim it has the power to kidnap citizens of foreign countries for violating U.S. law, and extradite them to the U.S. for trial and imprisonment—even for white collar crimes unrelated to terrorism, and even for acts that aren't illegal in the countries where the target is a citizen.

• Police will take enforcement of prostitution laws to a new level, by arresting and seizing the cars of anyone who merely talks to an undercover cop posing as a sex worker. Good samaratans, beware.

• The war on prescription painkillers will also reach new absurdities, as people will begin to be arrested and convicted of possessing painkillers for which they have a prescription . Prosecutors will weirdly argue that there is no "prescription defense" to possessing prescribed medication.

• How about sex crimes laws? I predict that here too, prosecutors will overreach. Watch, as some overzealous district attorney will charge middle school kids with sex crimes for such childhood shenanigans as slapping fellow classmates on the buttocks.

• While it continues to federalize crime and find new reasons to toss people in prison, members of Congress will simultaneously continue to attempt to put themselves above the law. I predict that the House of Representatives will attempt to prevent police from searching the computers of one of its members, even if that member is being investigated for soliciting sex with minors.

• Public schools will teach not just reading, writing, and arithmetic, they'll start teaching students to spy on their parents , and to report their parents to local authorities for minor violations of city codes, such as failing to recycle, or failing to keep their lawn trimmed.

• Pressed for revenue, at least one state in the country will pass draconian new traffic laws mandating fines of $1,000 or more for routine traffic violations, in a bald attempt to fill state treasury coffers. The bill will be sponsored by a lawmaker who, conveniently enough, also has a law practice that specializes in defending people accused of traffic violations. He will not disclose during the debate that the bill will almost certainly benefit him financially. He'll be reelected, anyway.

• A state governor will propose legislation calling for two-year prison terms for people who play online poker . Rather shamelessly, the proposal will come in the same bill that calls for allowing the construction of three new casinos in the same state.

• While we're talking about gambling, states will continue to crack down on the poker craze. Even VFW posts won't be immune. Soon, we'll see cops sent to break up $5 cribbage games, and SWAT teams to break up charity poker games. In fact, cops will raid bars where it merely looks like people are gambling, even if no gambling is actually taking place. Meanwhile, states will continue to spend millions promoting their own lotteries.

• Standing on the sidewalk will become a crime .

• Cities will begin seizing the cars of people who play their stereos too loud . In fact, they'll seize the cars based on little more the word of someone else that the car's owner was playing his stereo too loud.

• Proving there's no part of your life the Nanny State can't reach, states will begin asking bars to install talking urinal cakes, which will warn men as they relieve themselves that drinking and driving isn't cool.

• Another state's lawmakers will propose a bill that bans "eating, drinking, smoking, reading, writing, personal grooming, playing an instrument, interacting with pets or cargo, talking on a cell phone or using any other personal communication device" while driving.

• Two years after banning traffic cameras in the name of "liberty," the Virginia legislature will decide that revenue is more important than liberty, and will revoke the ban .

• The FBI will imply to Congress that sometimes it has to let it's undercover informants get away with murdering American citizens so as not to disrupt drug investigations.

• Following up on the enormous "success" (that's sarcasm) of laws putting cold medicine behind the drug store counters because they can be used to make meth, legislators will propose putting baking soda behind the counter , too, because it can be used to make crack.

Too over-the top? Too paranoid? As you may have guessed from clicking the embedded links (of if you read either of my two prior year-end columns ), none of the bullet points above were actual predictions. Each of the above already happened in the past 12 months, in 2007.

Each year, government at all levels encroaches a bit more on our personal, economic, and political freedom. One prediction that I'm pretty confident will come true: Come December 2008, there will be more than enough material for another column like this one.

Radley Balko is a senior editor for reason.  This article originally appeared at