Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Vice versus Freedom

A recent addendum to a port security bill has over politicized a debate raging for the last 80 years. Since prohibition in 1920s and 1930s, the long standing debate in criminal law is whether to legislate against vices. Then, it was alcohol, now it is becoming on-line gambling. Many states already have licensing restrictions on gambling establishments, but this new legislation attempts to control the rising scourge of on-line gambling by restricting the legality of the sites in the United States, and now by preventing banks from being able to make transactions to on-line gambling sites outside of the country. The Washington Times has an interesting commentary on attempts by the government to criminalize vices. This is nothing new. Since the 1980s, the government has targeted drug use, and indirectly targeted alcohol consumption, tobacco usage, and gambling. The question becomes whether government should be in the business of legislating vices.

The criminal law typically aims to restrict behavior that would harm others. In a utilitarian sense, the criminal law should only restrict behavior that impacts others or society in a manner counter productive to liberty. In a libertarian sense, provided someone who gambles doesn't detrimentally effect another, the vice shouldn't matter. If anything, this legislation is counterproductive to liberty since it restricts the use of the Internet. Moreover, it strikes harder at the heart of liberty by being an addendum to a bill that no legislator would vote against, a port security bill. This raises questions regarding the adequacy of congressional representation. Essentially, this kind of law is unnecessary and demonstrates that Congress is doing little to benefit the people.

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