June 13, 2013

A new oath for the Coasties

I DON’T KNOW WHY there is so much fuss about the U.S. government collecting all that information about its private citizens from phone companies and internet providers. Who amongst us still believes that we live in a democracy where citizens have rights to privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches?  Certainly no one with a boat ought to believe it.

The U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the military, force their way aboard commercial and private boats in U.S. and foreign waters every day wearing combat boots and sidearms. They don’t ask permission to board. They don’t have to. Congress okays it. The Supreme Court okays it.

But what about the Fourth Amendment, you ask.  Doesn’t the Coast Guard know that the Fourth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures?  Don’t they know that the Fourth Amendment requires any search warrant to be approved by a judge and supported by probable cause?

Yes, they know, all right. Congress knows, too.  So does the Supreme Court.  But just as Congress and the White House and the judiciary support searches of travelers in airports without probable cause, and wiretapping of ordinary U.S. citizens without cause, so also do they turn a blind eye to the transgression of the Fourth Amendment that results in armed Coast Guard raids on innocent sailing and power vessels, sometimes even in port at night, but mostly while they’re under way.

We like to boast to other nations about the democratic safeguards inherent in the Fourth Amendment that prevent a takeover of America by a despot or a military junta. That’s a joke if you’re a boater.  We’ve already been taken over.

The website SailFree, which I believe is attached to Sail magazine, raises an interesting point in an article by Clark Beek. He says each member of the Coast Guard has to swear an oath of office that goes like this:

“I____do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Maybe, says Beek,  they need to change it to:

“I____do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, except the Fourth Amendment part. Except for the Fourth Amendment I will defend the Constitution against all enemies . . . “

So let’s not pretend to be upset by the whistleblower revelations that the U.S. government has already turned into Big Brother.  You’ve either got to be a hypocrite or mentally challenged to believe that we live in a democracy in which our elected representatives carry out the will of the people.

Today’s Thought
The struggle against demagoguery scarcely fits the St. George-against-the-dragon myth . . . Our democratic St. George goes out rather reluctantly with armor awry.
— Norman Thomas, NY Times 2 Dec 84

When his personal assistant kept making one mistake after another, the boss couldn’t stand it any longer.
“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded.  “Are you in love or something?”
“Of course not,” the assistant said indignantly. “I’m a married woman.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Robert Salnick said...

...and now you get audited, John.

Ken said...

They've given me that "fright factor". Approaching Ft Pierce, Fl after a passage from N.C. at night, alone on watch I hear a growing roar behind me, as I turn all I see is a huge v wake screaming towards me with no lights. Just as it seemed they would run me down the lights, the very bright lights flooded my boat. They veered off, turned off the lights, they never did have running lights on and then refused to answer my radio calls.

That was pre 9/11 so I suppose I can expect more of the same when I get back out there.

Oh well, as long as they remain polite......

Matthew Marsh said...

The scariest part is that roughly half the US population thinks that all this nonsense is not only legal, but necessary.
"It's only a few boaters, it doesn't affect me."
"It's only metadata, not the actual content, what could they possibly learn from that?"

The Canadian government follows your lead, Yankees (and has admitted as much). So do a dozen others. You folks need to end this kind of thing before it can spread any more than it already has.

S/V Blondie-Dog said...

I've been "inconvenienced" on three occasions by the US Coastguard but still find it hard to want to gripe about it. For you see, I gotta believe that it will be the US Coastguard coming out to save my sorry ass if I were to have a mishap while underway.

Besides, I'll just simply explain that nope, I ain't got any illegal Cubans or bales of weed aboard my boat and that they are welcomed to search all they want.

Now being harassed by the Dept. of Homeland Security is another matter. My two cents... :)

Anonymous said...

Have there been 4th amendment challenges to USCG boardings in court? I'd love to know the history behind SCOTUS voting in favor of allowing such searches.

Bill said...

The only surprise to me about this wiretapping business is that anyone was surprised.

Anonymous said...


I love the way you put things to words!

Bill said...

Re: inquiry about SCOTUS rulings -

United States v. Villamonte-Marquez, 462 U.S. 579 (1983)

Anonymous said...

On my last trip from Sucia to Saltspring on my 22-footer I was boarded in Canadian waters by the RCMP for a "safety inspection", while on a dead run wing-on-wing... nice chaps, very polite, good boat handling skills, even if they were a bit nervous about the boom - "Please maintain your speed and heading sir!". I still can't figure out where they keep their horses on the boat.

Apparently this is part of a RCMP/Coast Guard initiative where they will be working together to keep our waters safe from communists, bed-wetters, criminals, smugglers and (hopefully maybe?) arrogant and ignorant owners of over-powered mega-yachts.

Allan S said...

Our. (Canadian CSIS), has been sying on your communications for decades. Your NSA gave/loaned all sorts of equipment to them and we listened then passed the data back to NSA. All legal (sort of) and morally ethical (sort of).