But it seems Shkreli's transgressions are not of the "three felonies before breakfast" variety, but rather things that are indeed often prosecuted (though, it should be noted, as everyone wronged was made whole, it is likely that he would not have been prosecuted if he had not been in the media spotlight as a villain; other remarks here mentioned that the founding of Fedex had a similar fraud committed, for example).
"The law is the law" is a very simplistic way of looking at things.
Laws can be challenged in court. Google is doing that with a Canadian law right now.
Laws can be found unconstitutional. Laws can be overturned. Laws can be repealed.
Laws can be unenforced. For example smoking weed in Colorado. A simple "the law is the law" outlook might conclude that it's illegal to sell weed in Colorado, and any business doing so "will simply be subjected to massive damage".
Laws can be interpreted and misinterpreted by judges, lawyers, prosecutors, etc. Smart people can disagree about what a law means. Some interpretations say anyone under 13 who reads the New York Times website is a criminal under the CFAA.
Some people argue that the average person commits 3 felonies a day.
And some people make the argument that people commit on average 3 felonies a day https://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp...
Less than you might think. Have you seen Three Felonies a Day ? Or heard of "indict a ham sandwich"?
The law being what it is today, and prosecutorial discretion being what it is, it is almost entirely up to whether someone wants to prosecute.
(I know it's better to provide references to web pages and not books, but I don't have a web page that recreates that book on hand. Suggestions welcome.)
As I understand it, it's an estimate, not an actual figure. In order to perform such a survey, we'd have to sample people, record their entire daily activity, and determine how many crimes were committed. Determining how many crimes were committed would require an army of lawyers and private investigators... and that's the real point. As a normal citizen without an army of lawyers, you should have no confidence whatsoever that you are not committing crimes. If measured by "what could be used to convict you if the government wanted you out of the way" I'd guess 3 per day is a grotesque underestimate, at least one order of magnitude and I wouldn't bet much against 2.
The United States government has done an excellent bit of propaganda to convince the bulk of the public that they are the most free people on earth. We salute the flag and sing the national anthem at games. We have the presidents' pictures on the walls of our classrooms. We chant "USA" at political rallies.
But the government of the United States has perpetrated terrible violence and destruction of liberty against its own citizens and many more abroad. Through endless military engagement abroad to harassment, detainment, and imprisonment at home, the government serves its own interests first, and enhancing and preserving your liberty is not among them.
I should be very concerned about coming to the attention of anyone within government -- at any level. Even the local code enforcement board can extract time, energy, and money from you should you come under scrutiny.
But as others have said, you're already on the lists. No need to be paranoid. Go ahead and sign the Snowden petition. It's just one more data point on your dossier. The government already has enough on you to put you away for life if you become inconvenient to the state. Three Felonies a Day and all that.
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions...
That's already true, as pointed out in Three Felonies a Day: http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/.... Everyone is already a criminal if someone wants to look carefully enough.
Improvements are just not going to happen prior to the downfall of our current ruling class; a window into how this currently works is the excellent Extortion, How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0544103343, or as Ayn Rand put it in Atlas Shrugged:
Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age of beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one 'makes' them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted-and you create a nation of law-breakers and then you cash in on the guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with.
According to http://www.amazon.ca/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/1..., a typical American commits three felonies a day.
- I would not consider Taobao a clone.
- The US has its advantages but also its disadvantages. Funding (e.g. SBIR grants) is very corrupt in the US (corrupt in the Latin sense, meaning not necessary meaning bribes but personal relationships. I could tell stories, Lordy Lord).
- "true rule of law" The true rule of law is a question of money in the states. For the average citizen the law has become more a risk than an asset.
That's the thesis of Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...), that:
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague....
He'll have a lot more examples, I'm sure.
So we can't hold the companies who complied with them entirely responsible, as those companies are made up of individuals who have families to think of.
Especially since the Feds have no compunctions against going after your family if they can't pin something on you. E.g. junk bond figure Michael Millikan, who's real crime was creating a market for poorly managed companies.
Besides, you probably commit "3 felonies per day", what's one more? :-)
The following section of Paul Graham's essay "Why startups condense in America", at http://paulgraham.com/america.html is relevant:
"7. America Is Not Too Fussy.
If there are any laws regulating businesses, you can assume larval startups will break most of them, because they don't know what the laws are and don't have time to find out.
For example, many startups in America begin in places where it's not really legal to run a business. Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Google were all run out of garages. Many more startups, including ours, were initially run out of apartments. If the laws against such things were actually enforced, most startups wouldn't happen.
That could be a problem in fussier countries. If Hewlett and Packard tried running an electronics company out of their garage in Switzerland, the old lady next door would report them to the municipal authorities.
But the worst problem in other countries is probably the effort required just to start a company. A friend of mine started a company in Germany in the early 90s, and was shocked to discover, among many other regulations, that you needed $20,000 in capital to incorporate. That's one reason I'm not typing this on an Apfel laptop. Jobs and Wozniak couldn't have come up with that kind of money in a company financed by selling a VW bus and an HP calculator. We couldn't have started Viaweb either.
Here's a tip for governments that want to encourage startups: read the stories of existing startups, and then try to simulate what would have happened in your country. When you hit something that would have killed Apple, prune it off.
Startups are marginal. They're started by the poor and the timid; they begin in marginal space and spare time; they're started by people who are supposed to be doing something else; and though businesses, their founders often know nothing about business. Young startups are fragile. A society that trims its margins sharply will kill them all."
In a "Three Felonies a Day" (http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...) society the odds of your ending up in one or the other position are probably greater than you think, certainly greater than you hope.
Under these kinds of conditions, if someone in an appropriate branch of government wants to nail you for any reason, they can. Especially now that widespread spying makes it much easier to identify specific transgressions.
So I am not so sure why you would take such a hard line on legality when in fact such a stance is just waiting to come back and bite you (and everyone).
... In fact, now it is the government's position that there are SECRET LAWS that you can be violating but not even know why you are violating them; they can arrest you and not tell you exactly why they arrested you, because the reason is secret. How are you supposed to engage in strictly legal behavior when you don't even know what is legal and what is illegal?
See "Three Felonies a Day"
Also, note the following quote from the original article:
"most drug-trafficking defendants plead guilty before trial"
In fact, something like 90% or more of people accused of crimes in the US never get a trial, because they plead guilty. They plead guilty because prosecutors pile on so many charges that the defendants are afraid to risk life in jail if they happen to lose (in a judicial system that's usually stacked against them). Defending a case in Federal court is also incredibly expensive and traumatic. See the Aaron Swartz case for good examples of all of the above.
 - http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...
Semi-intelligent queries can be executed, such that ignorance of the law might be abated. Imagine saying "Siri, is it illegal to do X?" and Siri answering you. This is important, because of the "Three Felonies a Day" syndrome with unwitting violations of the law. http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...
I'm not so sure about that. Roughly 90% of Americans use illegal drugs at some point in their lives, and supposedly the average American commits 3 felonies per day.
"The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. "
"Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent" The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague.
And, "no less"? On the contrary, all prosecutors do substantially less. They don't actually apply the law most of the time, if they did, we'd probably all be in prison. See this book:
The book Three Felonies a Day talks about this (the main focus is how the government's tactics for working its way up the food chain to the apex criminal, which is not related to Aaron's story, but the author's exposition of costs and property restrictions are relevant). http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...
If the premise of Harvey Silverglate's book, "Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent," is correct, then this is quite plausible. A key message from Silverglate's book is that because it is impossible to know if one's behavior is lawful, it is impossible to be sure that one operates within the contours of the law at all times. Thus, if you would be convenient to nail not because of anything in particular that you've done but because you can probably be convinced to testify against someone higher up in their chain, beware.
From my recollection of this book, this was a tactic more typically used at the federal level, so either the tactic is spreading or my recollection of its state-level use is just dim.
EDIT: In response to all of the other comments pointing out other absurd choices the authorities could make (they could prosecute Pepsi since they sell soda to these operations, etc), Silverglate's book provides a nice framework for why this programmer would be targeted and not Pepsi. He's not the fodder, but he does have meaningful access to the fodder (whereas Pepsi surely does not).
 = http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...
 = In contrast, it's often quite possible to know when one's behavior is unlawful.
Here's a few, ranging from the humorous to the heinous.
The only question is, which laws "count?" And who decides?
Another angle in the US is are situations where you cannot be charged with a crime, but your property can. For example, if you are travelling on an airplane with a "large" quantity of cash, the authorities can (and have) essentially "arrest" your cash via asset forfeiture. You have rights, but your property does not.
"The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to “white collar criminals,” state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch..."