Study Guide

Little Brother Rules and Order

By Cory Doctorow

Rules and Order

Chapter 3
Marcus Yallow

"Am I under arrest?" I repeated. They can't make you answer any questions if you're not under arrest, and when you ask if you're under arrest, they have to answer you. It's the rules.
"You're being detained by the Department of Homeland Security," the woman snapped. (3.104-105)

Marcus knows his rights, but DHS is different than normal police. At this point, the rules that Marcus thinks will give him more information just make things less clear.

Who were these clowns? They weren't wearing insignia. Maybe they were terrorists! I'd never really believed in terrorists before ­­ I mean, I knew that in the abstract there were terrorists somewhere in the world, but they didn't really represent any risk to me. (3.49)

Notice that Marcus assumes that he's been captured by terrorists, not a government law enforcement agency.

Chapter 4

There's no way a judge would say that all this stuff constituted any kind of real crime. It was free speech, it was technological tinkering. It wasn't a crime. (4.82)

What makes an action a crime or an act of free speech? The difference isn't always clear, which is one of Little Brother's main messages.

[severe haircut lady]: "You want to preserve the Bill of Rights? Help us stop bad people from blowing up your city. Now, you have exactly thirty seconds to unlock that phone before I send you back to your cell. We have lots of other people to interview today." (4.24)

How will unlocking a phone preserve the Bill of Rights? Does this count as illegal search and seizure?

Chapter 7

Zit took the fore. "We seem to have gotten off to a bad start. We identified your son as someone with a nonstandard public transit usage pattern, as part of a new pro­active enforcement program. When we spot people whose travels are unusual, or that match a suspicious profile, we investigate further." (7.43)

This method of investigation is based on Bayesian analysis, which is the basis of how spam filters work.

Chapter 13

"That's not a very sophisticated view." [Mrs. Andersen] looked at her seating­plan. "Marcus. For example, say a policeman conducts an improper search ­­ he goes beyond the stuff specified in his warrant. He discovers compelling evidence that a bad guy killed your father. It's the only evidence that exists. Should the bad guy go free?"

I knew the answer to this, but I couldn't really explain it. "Yes," I said, finally. "But the police shouldn't conduct improper searches ­­"

"Wrong," she said. "The proper response to police misconduct is disciplinary action against the police, not punishing all of society for one cop's mistake." She wrote "Criminal guilt" under point one on the board. (13.85-87)

The Fourth Amendment covers the rules about who and what can be searched when. This part of privacy law remains really controversial, but there are a lot of guides about when searches are legal and when they aren't.

The Board of Education said that its No Child Left Behind tests had cost tens of millions of dollars to produce and that they'd have to spend it all over again now that they'd had the leak. They called it "edu­terrorism." The news had speculated endlessly about the political motivations of the leaker, wondering if it was a teacher's protest, or a student, or a thief, or a disgruntled government contractor. (13.38)

Ange's spur of the moment decision to steal and publish copies of these tests became a major news event. She doesn't fit the profile of any of the news speculation, showing how easy it is for the news to get a suspect's identity and motivations wrong with no real information to go on. What would you do with copies of stolen tests?

Chapter 17

It's unbelievable today, but there was a time when the government classed crypto as a munition and made it illegal for anyone to export or use it on national security grounds. Get that? We used to have illegal math in this country. (17.3)

Can they declare trigonometry illegal now? Please?

Chapter 20
Zeb

[Zeb:] "Are you sure? Some of the people that were on Treasure Island with us got taken away in helicopters. They got taken offshore. There are countries where America can outsource its torture. Countries where you will rot forever. Countries where you wish they would just get it over with, have you dig a trench and then shoot you in the back of the head as you stand over it." (20.99)

There were offshore locations like these established by the CIA after the September 11 attacks called black sites. Terrorism suspects were kept in these locations and interrogated, though where and how is still not 100% clear.

Chapter 21
Barbara Stratford

[Barbara:] "Just because the DHS is out, it doesn't mean that you get to just walk out of here. What's happened here is that we're getting rid of the bizarro­world version of the justice system they'd instituted and replacing it with the old system. The system with judges, open trials and lawyers." (21.10)

When should rules be changed to fit a special situation and when is it important to keep established systems in place? There are no easy answers.

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