First, it must be noted once again that normals and telepaths lived side by side in the same communities for generations before the "telepath regulation" statutes were passed - and side by side for generations afterwards in the countries that had not yet adopted such laws, prior to "universal regulation" and the formation of the Corps in 2156. Most communities didn't even see telepaths as some separate social class called "telepaths" - these people were just members of their respective communities.
The "telepath regulation laws" were designed to address a problem that didn't really exist - a crisis manufactured by the very same people who created the laws in the first place. Crawford played the "telepath problem" to facilitate his personal rise to power, backstabbing and blackmailing his way to the most powerful position in the Earth Alliance - in some ways, even more powerful than the President.
Given the public's general ignorance as to what telepathy really was, Crawford and others found it very easy to scare a substantial portion of the public.
Both reputable newpapers and taboids picked up this propaganda (Dark Genesis, p. 44-45):
The Boston Globe, 21 May 2117
Triana Neesom of Perth, Australia, today filed suit against her dentist, Graham McKay, D.D.S., for invasion of privacy. McKay - recently identified as a telepath - indignantly denied the allegation that he had "picked Neesom's bloody brains" while the plaintiff was under general anesthesia for root canal surgery.
[This date is very early, so it's very unlikely this case could have been successful, but the press it generated helped fuel the "telepath panic" and the creation of telepath-specific torts as described in the link above.]
Weekly World News, 15 June 2117
THEY WEREN'T ALONE IN BED! Ladies, take warning! A young woman from Manchester, U.K. (at her request we withhold her name), recently experienced what might be the worst first date in history - at the hands - and we do mean "hands" - of telepaths. A model student and virgin, Georgia (not her real name) celebrated her twenty-first birthday with some friends at a local nightspot. Noticing that she had drawn the attention of a handsome young man, her girlfriends urged her to break her long bedroom fast. Encouraged by strong drink, the young woman relented to peer pressure and at the end of the night found herself in the young man's apartment. All seemed to be going well, when - at that tenderest of moments - she heard lascivious groans, moans, and even applause from the next room. On peeking through the bedroom door, she discovered five men and women, whose applause doubled when they saw her. To her horror, she realized that they - and the young man she had been with - were all telepaths, and had all taken part in her sexual initiation, seeing and feeling all in intimate, graphic detail. She had been the victim of a telepathic gang rape!
Canon provides zero credible accounts of any such thing ever occurring, of course (in stark contrast to the very real examples of normals raping telepaths), but this is not the point. Crawford used these propagandistic "reports" as a springboard for his appeal to the Earth Alliance for new regulations to "control" telepaths:
"To that end, I would like to announce that the president has given me the go-ahead to form a new government organization, made up of telepaths like Anna, Guy, Stephen, Clara, and Constance. We're all agreed that this is the best, most sensitive way to handle both the needs of telepaths and of the world at large. What people are really afraid of is not telepaths, I'm convinced, but the fear of not knowing who is a telepath. Most of us don't mind being naked, so to speak, but we don't want just anyone seeing us naked without our consent." (Dark Genesis. p. 49-50)
Propaganda was written to cast telepathy as illicit sexual conduct -
with telepaths as "peeping toms" or even as rapists.
In fact, in a distortion of Orwellian proportions, he presented telepath regulation to the public (and his opponents) as, I quote, "a human rights issue." (Dark Genesis, p. 53)
By "human," of course, he excludes telepaths, unless he considers being registered, marked and banned from most employment to be a "human right."
The re-conceptualization of telepathy as "illicit sexual conduct," even rape, had lasting implications on Earth Alliance law and the status of telepaths both legally and socially. Though some of the more blatant propaganda disappeared over time, its impact did not. Indeed, one of the most common epithets hurled at telepaths is "mindfucker" (which canon "bowdlerizes" to "mindfricker" or "mindscrewer" because Del Rey couldn't publish what the characters were really saying).
The message in the epithet - which often precedes physical violence - is that telepathy is rape, so telepaths deserve to have the shit beaten out of them.
Behind the Gloves does not bowdlerize the epithets, because showing readers the original - and the impact of those words - is entirely the point. Hiding those words distorts the truth and makes the bigotry and hatred seem less severe than it really is.
Earth Alliance law reflects the same set of values - that telepathy is a form of illicit sexual conduct. Canon repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) frames so-called scanning in terms of "consent" and "permission" - considerable law was developed fleshing out what this means and when the results of such scans are admissible in court (I've personally counted no less than seventeen references in canon, and three JMS interviews, about the subject). There are many more citations when it comes to scanning and "legality."
We'll get to admissibility later.
I have a much more basic point to make.
Once someone is legally registered with the government as a "telepath," the ordinary functioning of his or her mind, and senses, is (potentially) criminalized.
Opponents try to duck out of this by couching the criminalization in terms of "scans" - it's only "scanning without consent" that's illegal!
Except what the hell is a "scan," anyway?
Who coined this term?
How did paying attention get a new name?
(The law doesn't distinguish in legality between a "deep" scan and a "light" one - both are equally illegal.)
How is a so-called "scan" different from intentionally choosing to pay attention to the world around you, and noticing things as a result?
It's just that when telepaths pay attention, they notice different things than normals do.
Same action - different result.
Where's the so-called line between noticing surface thoughts (not criminalized until the post-Corps era), and a "light scan" (which is technically illegal without "consent")?
There isn't one.
It's only a matter of degree.
Oh shit, you mean they've made "paying attention" criminal?
Like, go to prison illegal (if you're caught)?
Recall what Byron says to Garibaldi in Paragon of Animals:
"Do you know what a telepath has to do in order to avoid picking up stray thoughts? We have to kick down our natural abilities. Run rhymes and little songs through our heads, round and round. All that to keep from picking up what you're broadcasting loud enough to be heard halfway down the hall. ... Mundanes want us to fill our heads with noise and babble so we won't hear what you're shouting at the top of your minds."
Even though picking up on "stray, surface thoughts" isn't outright illegal, it's considered "very bad manners,"
and revealing what you know can get you assaulted or even killed.
And that just covers what you notice when you're not actively paying attention.
If you are a telepath, paying attention can be illegal.
And probably is - you need the permission of normals in order to legally be allowed to pay attention.
And even then, only to the right things - if you pay attention to something else, outside the "scope"
of what you've been given permission for,
it's illegal again.
By way of analogy (no analogy is ever perfect, but let's try), say there are several conversations going on in a room. And you are not permitted, legally, to hear any of them, though of course you're in the same room and it's literally impossible not to.
Then you are given legal permission to hear just one of those conversations - but if you hear any of the others, nope, illegal.
Or you are permitted to see some of the guests at the party - but the others do not consent, so you have to "not see those people" standing there.
There is no precedence for this in any legal system anywhere, as far as I am aware. Comparing people's God-given senses to "rape," and criminalizing "paying attention?"
Nor is it true that the "whole world" suddenly embraced this notion as soon as telepaths were "discovered," agreeing that such rules were "necessary" for the continued smooth functioning of society. Many countries and cultures resisted, because they knew the whole thing to be based on piles and piles of flawed premises. The Pope never took this view, for instance (Dark Genesis, p. 19):
The Miami Herald, English edition, 5 December 2115
Pope Pius XV disclosed today that a number of as-yet-unnamed priests have voluntarily come forward to be tested as telepaths. "It should be clear to us all," the Pope said at his address in Caracas, "that the sudden appearance of these people among us constitutes a miracle - the scientific community has no explanation for them. God has given us men and women who can see into our souls, and this is a blessing we must embrace. They are God's gifts to us, a reminder of His love, a way to true confession and salvation." His Holiness went on to decry the violence and suspicion surrounding the discovery of telepaths, and called for the world to join in "peacefully embracing our new brethren."
[I just don't think that the Catholic Church, with its well documented research on miracles, would ever say these people "suddenly appeared." Has this Pope never heard of these famous saints? (The question, rather, is if JMS and Gregory Keyes have ever heard of them?) I'm just not entirely sure what the Church's position would be on telepaths who aren't Catholic!]
In sum, yes, Earth Alliance law has made it technically illegal for telepaths to pay close attention to their their environment in the wrong modality, without the permission of normals (akin to saying it's "illegal" for someone to pay close attention to things they see, but just fine to pay attention to things they hear, touch, taste, or smell).
After all, if you're a telepath, your other senses aren't criminalized and "regulated," just one.
"Let's just pretend you're all really normals inside, with some 'extra sense' tacked on -
that we can 'regulate' separate from the rest of who you are."
If imagining that makes your head spin - well, yes.
That's life behind the gloves.