Quote of the day—Glen McGregor

I find the destruction of any kind of government data utterly abhorent (sic) and contrary to the concept of open government.

In response, I’m posting publicly a copy of the gun registry database I received via the Access to Information Act in 2007.

Glen McGregor
October 26, 2011
You can have my gun registry data when you pry it from my cold, dead hands
This is regarding the Canadian long gun registry.
[“Any kind of government data”, really? What if it was a registry of one of the following:

  • Undercover police officers.
  • Confidential informants.
  • People who are racially “impure” (the “heroes” of The Turner Diaries would have found this useful).
  • People who are HIV positive.
  • Homosexuals and all their known lovers.
  • Women who had used an abused women shelters.
  • People who are Jewish/black/Christian/Islamic.
  • People who had voted Conservative/Liberal/Whatever.
  • People who subscribed to GayCalgary and Edmonton Magazine.
  • People who have written letters to the editor opposing/supporting Health Canada.

What McGregor apparently doesn’t understand is that this registry is something that should have never been allowed to exist in the first place. There are some datasets which only use is abuse or the risk of such abuse is much greater than any benefits that might be gained. When a list is a set of people who are in the minority and who historically have been victims of oppression then extreme scrutiny must be given to the existence of such a list let alone the publication of such a list.

I will give McGregor a little bit of slack that some of his commenters don’t in that he claims his copy of the list does not have any names or addresses in it beyond the first two characters of the postal code. This helps some. But an oppressor (think of the Belgium Corporal story) could use this data to confiscate all the firearm in a particular postal code area by going door to door demanding to know who owns, for example, the Remington 700 chambered in 30.06 with serial number XXXX.

The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental natural right and for any government to keep records on the exercise of such a right is to put the right in jeopardy of infringement.

Your “cold, dead hands” McGregor? I don’t think it will go that far. I believe the threat of a prison sentence will be more than sufficient to get the data destroyed. But if not then I don’t have a problem with him dying in prison over it.—Joe]


14 thoughts on “Quote of the day—Glen McGregor

  1. Is Glen McGregor Canadian? If so, his medical records belong to the government. Is he married? Any kids? They’ll have records too.

    I’d happily donate $20 to a fund to hire a hacker to obtain and publish all that stuff.

    But if Mr. McGregor would so abhor for those records to remain private, why isn’t he publishing them himself? Isn’t that strange? How very, very strange.

  2. Actually, in the US, as in most countries, publishing somebody’s personal health information is a crime. Pretty sure it’s a crime in Canada too. Even handling it insecurely, without an actual breach, is a serious matter. And it should be. The suggestion above is an ironic commentary on McGregor’s selective contempt for personal privacy, which I don’t share.

  3. I believe that he is Canadian.

    I did not mention the health records because the existence of those records has substantial value. They can be abused but the trade-offs associated with the existence of those records is not nearly so one sided as it is with the other types of possible records I did mention.

  4. Joe,

    Government has no business at all keeping personal health records, any more than keeping a long gun registry.

    Certain aspects of health records do have value when reported to the government. Mostly these should be reported as anonymous statistics, such as vaccination rates in an area.

    A very small select items need personal information included. These are restricted to things such as TB, SARS and the like.

    Health records will be used to modify peoples lifestyles just as much as a long gun registry.


  5. @Earl, I fully agree with you. But my point with the type of records I was talking about was that the mere existence of the records was wrong.

    To bring up records that existence is probably good and government access is problematic dilutes my point.

  6. @Joe,

    A custom gunsmith who has a client list has a defacto list of gun owners.

    Such a list is arguably essential for managaing a thriving business. A business without the ability to use its existing customer base is, in my experience, a dead business. Ask Lyle if he has a mailing list. If he does, he has what amounts to a defacto list of long gun owners.

    To look at a couple of your examples with a few tweaks:

    Is a list of AIDS sufferers in an institutional setting a bad thing?
    Is a gunsmiths client list a bad thing?
    Is a list of People who subscribed to GayCalgary and Edmonton Magazine bad for the magazine when trying to renew subscriptions?

    These are not in of themselves bad datasets.

    I have to disagree with the statement that:

    “…existence is probably good and government access is problematic dilutes my point”.

    It relies on an excluded middle argument – that it is either bad or good. But this is not the case in the real world. Some of these datasets will and indeed must exist.

    Free commerce depends on it. Why should a supermarket have a frequent shoppers system with targeted sales, but a gun-store cannot?

    Lets face it, a supermarket frequent shopper system that tracks kosher purchases can quickly be used to locate those who have sympathies or cantact with jews. No different to a gunsmith really. How do we prevent these lists? By passing laws and crippling competetive advantage? Isn’t that the antithesis of freedom? Shouldn’t a supermarket be the same as a gun store?

    No, the solution is simply to vote the buggers out when they start talking this way. If you don’t have sufficient number to do that then you have already lost and will have to fight a rear-guard action.


  7. In the case of the gun and HIV lists I was referring to mandatory lists intended to be the complete set.

    In this country the existence of private lists are probably protected by the First Amendment and I’m fine with that.

  8. Since I’m involved in one of these data-release fights myself, here in Oregon, I noted with interest your statement, “I believe the threat of a prison sentence will be more than sufficient to get the data destroyed.” Since the movement and storage of data is so easy nowadays, why would you ever believe that an IT-smart person WOULDN’T make a copy? Easy to do. An authorized person, before the destruction order goes into effect, makes one copy, then copies the copy (on his own machine of which the gov’t has no record). He then hands back the first copy “to be destroyed”. I’m not an IT guy, but if I can think of an untraceable way to copy data, an IT guy can think of many more.

    Data is forever. Just ask Google. That gun registry list will never be destroyed, and if Labour ever firmly re-takes the Canoodlian Gov’t, and gets entrenched enough to start more gun registration, that data will “miraculously” re-appear, and the anti-gun gov’t will then refuse to prosecute anyone for “illegally” copying it, back in the Conservative day.

    There ARE NO solutions to this one, Joe. It’s like you said, don’t establish the list to start with.

    Now, any bets on whether a list from 4473s, Form Fours or the like exists HERE?


  9. Even if it does exist (and I wouldn’t put it past the ATF to have some sort of “unofficial” tally), the fact that in-state private sales are legal and commonplace (in most states), firearms can be inherited without a whole lot of paperwork, and the fact that people move from place to place, means that the list is more or less useless. At best you get a list of people who probably own firearms, but you still have no idea of what they have and only a pretty good idea where they live. Since you don’t have to put your SSN on the form, if you can’t find them at the address they cite then it’s hard to cross-check the list with e.g. driver’s license records unless the person in question has a unique name.

    On a related note, a couple of times I’ve been given a NICS number and told to give it to the sheriff in the event that someone steals the purchased item. But I thought those records were supposed to be destroyed in 24 hours. Perhaps the clerk didn’t know what he was talking about.

  10. Oh also I tried using my passport card once as my govt. ID. I don’t recommend that–they got confused and since it only says where you were born (IL in my case) they got confused, thought I lived there, & asked me for a FOID, which I never had & can’t get anyway since moving to freer climes.

  11. @Rivrdog, Of course copies are easy to make and keep. But the bottom line it with a prison sentence waiting is risky to ever use the data or let someone else have access to it. If/when the prison sentence threat disappears then data will be “degraded” because there was no records kept of the transfers. All those guns could have been “lost in tragic boating accidents”. They will have to start over.

    4473s stay with the retail seller until they go out of business or 20 years pass. If they go out of business they are required to send them to the ATF who is forbidden by congress to computerize the records. Do they computerized that subset? Maybe. But its a big risk. All it takes is one employee to get pissed off and blow the whistle and there will be hell to pay if the correct party is in power at the time.

    @Publius, The clerk may have been telling you the truth because the store is able to look up the 4473 by the NICS number. That does not necessarily mean the NICS record still exists. I’m pretty sure the NICS number is required to be put on the 4473 (in those cases where a NICS check is required).

  12. Ah, that would make sense. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure they also wrote some number (must be the NICS one) in the top margin of the form. Also makes a lot more sense since I don’t think they give NICS any info on the gun, just on the purchaser. The only reason I remember it is b/c it seemed so strange to me at the time. Personally, I’d rather maintain a list of s/n’s in my own little database that can double as a range activity/repair log. But that works too.

  13. Doesn’t the FBI maintain an illegal gun registry of all NICS transfers goin back 10 years or so? I am not seaking of the 4473. I am speaking of the NICS checks the FBI is required to by law destroy within 24 hours of transfer. From what I’ve been told they don’t. Or do after making a copy they don’t have to because its not the original.

  14. All this talk of lists, and how they all serve a good purpose somehow, sometimes, in the right hands makes me think of one of the few useful things President Lyndon Johnson said, something to the effect of, “Don’t think of how you could use this law, think of how your enemies can use it.”
    This also makes you mindful of what Kim DuToit said about how in South Africa everyone wanted a gun the government didn’t know about.

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