For years, lunatics and conspiracy theorists have been telling us that America is becoming a police state. Privacy advocates and alarmists have been telling us that the erosion of our rights, such as warrantless wiretappings and secret courts, will lead to abuses of power. Warhawks and cowards claim that these measures are required for our national security, and that abuses are wildly unlikely.

Most average citizens just tune out and continue their daily activities, unaffected. But take care! Rights are like emergency generators: you never know how important they are, or how well they'll work, until you really need them and try them out.

So, how could we tell when abuses occur? How could we know that our rights have become secondary to the powers of the government? Navigating through civilization and politics is a dark, difficult task, like working in deep mine. What would be our canary?

I would propose that when peaceful protestors are deliberately included on a list reserved for terrorists, members of violent gangs, sex offenders, and other heinous crimes, we've lost one of our most valuable rights. We must have the right to protest the actions of our government; otherwise we are not represented, and not governed so much as commanded.

Cynics will point to the problems with the "no-fly" list, and ask why I'm just waking up now. When I look at the way that list is composed and used, I see bureaucratic idiocy. Seriously, a list of names? How stupid, how obviously destined for misunderstanding and mistake. This list uses a more comprehensive method of identification, so this isn't a case of mistaken identity.

And this list of criminals is not available to just anybody. Only the FBI can modify it, and they use information from a number of judicial agencies. Here are the details of the NCIC list. Somebody in a position of power added them to the list inappropriately.

This wasn't even a case of some fat-fingered newbie putting the names in the wrong spaces. According to the colonel's account, both she and her colleague were listed on the NCIC for minor infractions related to protests. That's two protesters showing up on the list, and six separate offenses for one of them. When it reaches that stage, it's not a mistake. It's deliberate; it's policy.

You may no longer protest, or you will be placed on a list of violent criminals. This will prevent you from travelling freely. Who knows who else uses this database? I had to affirm that I haven't committed any crimes just to be a volunteer at my kids' school; would being on this list have excluded me? Would it prevent me from getting certain jobs? What other lists am I on, and for what?

Ladies and gentlemen, the canary has died.