Off-Label Police State

You’re familiar with the concept of “off-label” use (and abuse) of pharmaceutical drugs, right?  A drug is developed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for one use, but soon after either doctors or the patients themselves use it for other purposes.

Perhaps the most famous – and perhaps frequent – current example of an off-label use is Ritalin, which is prescribed for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  When used by the right patient for the right purpose, it calms the child.  Perversely, when taken by a person without ADHD, it acts like an amphetamine and speeds them up.

Sometimes, the pharma companies take products off label themselves.  Pfizer was trying to develop a vasodilator when it was noticed the product had this, um, unusual off-label effect.  The scientists thought they’d failed; the marketing department didn’t see it that way and thus Viagra was introduced.

This, however, isn’t about drugs.  It’s about law, but the same principle applies, maybe it’s a statement of where we are as a society.  What I mean is this: we allow police and other authorities to extend some extraordinary authority over us, to take away rights we should not be deprived of for an extraordinary purpose (so we’re told), but then that intrusion is used against us for yet another, different purpose.

For instance: If you wish to fly, you must submit to a search of your person and baggage that would be unacceptable in normal circumstances, but the threat of air terrorism in the post-9/11 world is deemed to be worthy of this exception to our rights.

Except.  Except that any number of Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) arrests are for things like small amounts of drugs passengers have on them.  Well, what should TSA do?  Ignore the drugs?  They are federal law enforcement officers.

Nor do I endorse the carriage of drugs through airports.  Point is, the TSA would have had no reasonable way of knowing who has drugs – the TSA would not even exist – if not for the real or perceived threat of terrorism.

Is that an exaggeration?  I don’t know.  Is the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program an exaggeration?  (Or just an obscenity?)  Advocated as a crime-fighting technique, this dent in our civil liberties are seen by many – with cause – as an excuse to harass African Americans and Latinos.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know (or think we know, we may have more to learn) how deeply the National Security Agency (NSA) peers into our lives.  Again, the excuse is post-9/11 national security.  Oh, and the postal service has been capturing images of our mail for years.

The phone companies and internet service providers are singing and dancing as fast as they can and it seems their explanation for what they allow the government to do or not do and what they’ve told us or not told us, seems to change each week.

Now comes the oil giant Chevron, which last month convinced a federal judge to serve a subpoena on Microsoft for metadata – which email addresses and telephone numbers were connected when and for how long – in a lawsuit against environmentalists.  Chevron is PO’ed because it lost a huge lawsuit in Ecuador (hey, isn’t that one of the countries that made favorable noises about Edward Snowden?) for massive pollution it left behind from decades of operation.  Now it’s demanding that it be allowed to trawl through every scrap of information it can get its hands on and the courts agree.

Now that the NSA has kicked the door in, why wouldn’t multinational corporations rush in behind?  After all, we know who runs the show.

© Mark Floegel, 2013

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