A Tale of Two Countries

August 14, 2006

A week ago today, a little blurb on the inside pages of the Boston Globe caught my eye. The headline was “Surveillance Bill OK’d”, and I started scanning it with that now familiar Dorothy Parker feeling. (That grand dame got bored answering her phone with “Hello,” and switched for a while to “What fresh hell is this?”)

The further I read, the better I felt. Until I went back and read it a little more slowly, including the dateline. And as a result, for your delectation, this little quiz, which I’ll call A Tale of Two Countries.

Country A:
According to a new law

  • The government is allowed to “to use telephone wiretaps, e-mail scans and other surveillance techniques in the name of public security.”
  • The government must obtain permission from a judge first.
  • Citizens are guaranteed a right to sue for compensation for wrongful surveillance
  • Upon passage of the law, the entire opposition party walked out of the legislative chamber en masse in protest.

Country B:

  • The government confirmed that it has been using telephone wiretaps, and unspecified additional surveillance techniques, on thousands of citizens in the name of public security.
  • It asserted the right to do this in violation of a law making it a felony to do so without obtaining permission from a judge first.
  • When citizens brought suit for wrongful surveillance, the government insisted the suits be dismissed without a hearing, under a “state secrets” privilege.
  • When some judges permitted some suits to go forward, the government introduced a law to consolidate all such suits under a court which had a firm track record of kowtowing to all government claims of “state secrets” privilege.
  • In the opposition party, no other legislators were willing to back a call to censure the government’s behavior.

One country is the United States of America, bastion of liberty. The other country is the evil, repressive regime of Communist China (specifically, the province of Hong Kong). Now, the trick question: which is which? Answer in the Chicago Tribune


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