The Second Amendment and digital security

What would a more modern interpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution look like?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

One of the origins of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution can be found in William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England” which helped shape England’s own Bill of Rights. The specific passage is similar to the 2nd Amendment, as is one of the key reasons for its being:

[T]he right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances

Examples of citizens rising up against the goverment by leveraging this right are many, but the first test of the America’s new system was with 1794’s Whiskey Rebellion where arms were taken up to resist tax collectors.

At the time is was absolutely possible for a group of protestor-citizens to rise up against the government with the arms of the day. However, in the age of F-22’s, Apache Helicopters, and M1A1 tanks, it’s probably arguable that even a group of resourceful citizens couldn’t exactly bear arms the same way to potentially overthrow a tyrannical government. Though thankfully I feel like today we’re pretty far removed from the possibility of a full-on tyrannical government happening.

However, with homeland security in the news so much, by way of the recent NSA PRISM scandal, I started to wonder about personal security in the Internet age. In many cases, laws are left up to gross misinterpretation. In fact, the 2nd Amendment is one example of a law that’s been left up to arguably too much interpretation.

This lead me to a question that I haven’t heard asked yet:

Should the 2nd Amendment cover digital ‘arms’?

The first thing that I’d like to point out is that it’s amazing to me that the Bill of Rights still stands in its mostly intact form today. That’s because of the foresight of the founding fathers to give us a document vague enough to be left to interpretation, but specific enough to protect our freedoms. With that in mind, I’ll point this out:

The 2nd Amendment says “Arms”, not “firearms”

At the time, the use of the word Arms clearly meant firearms as there wasn’t really any other way of defending one’s self, one’s country, or in theory, defending against a government gone awry. However, the scope of war has evolved. As has the scope of ones personal property and privacy — all changed through the lens of the Internet age. So might the definition of “Arms” need an update?

I have no clear definition of what “digital arms” may consist of other than that they may be a means of protection digitally.

Let’s take a theoretically scenario:

The government decides that it’s going to build a PRISM-like program for all natural-born and naturalized citizens. Ultimate warrantless digital surveillance under the guise of protection of the State and personal “freedom.” Should it be illegal to take up “digital arms” in defense of this? Or should citizens be able to take up arms against the government’s intrusion, digitally?

The unfortunate reality

It’s probably safe to assume that the U.S. Government won’t be this forward-thinking. More than likely, the 2nd Amendment will get further defined as “firearms” and not include any other means of defense. This will unfortunately leave some of the above questions left up to ever more interpretation and likely a further encroaching of one’s rights.

I wrote this essay to simply to bring up the idea and provoke thought. Ideally, something along these lines could start a dialog that gets citizens and the government thinking a bit more about digital presence. It’s clear through recent acts of the NSA, CIA, and the like that there is little regard to personal privacy on the internet. Warrantless “wiretapping” of email, instant messaging, text messaging, etc. as well as tracking citizens unknowingly through GPS worries me about the future of our personal freedoms and rights.

Footnote: I now realize I’m probably going to end up on some list of questionable citizens that should be tracked. Great.

By Matt Galligan

Hi, I'm Matt. I’m a dad, a Midwesterner living on the East Coast, designer, craft beer & coffee lover, remote work evangelist, and GIF enthusiast.