“It is the search power combined with other laws that become a powerful tool of repression.” Amen.
Reader, read carefully and ponder. I don’t care how much you think it can never happen in America, it can, and it is close. The law does not discriminate, and once legal precedents are set, law enforcement will act accordingly. When legal precedents are expanded, law enforcement will pursue its perceived mission to the utmost according to the newly expanded boundaries of the law. Mission creep is compounded by legal creep. The combination is dangerous: it means the erosion of rights and liberties in the eyes of the state.
The search in Boston set a precedent, which means that such searches can be generalized to other places in America and to other situations, unless whoever authorized the Boston search is reprimanded and sanctioned for having ordered it. That seems to be Governor Deval Patrick, at a minimum.
Unless this search is clearly labeled and understood as being illegal and wrong, it creates a precedent. This changes the law de facto, even if not de jure. A de facto change will become a de jure change if only by interpretation
But what’s bad about such a precedent? What’s bad about the police having the power to make house-to-house searches routinely?
Consider what sorts of searches were common in totalitarian countries. This provides an inkling of the results of such police power.
First of all, America is in some respects following a path that Nazi Germany followed. I quote from one account: “Police manpower was even extended by the incorporation of Nazi paramilitary organizations as auxiliary policemen. The Nazis centralized and fully funded the police to better combat criminal gangs and promote state security. The Nazi state increased staff and training, and modernized police equipment.”
This has been happening in America for some time now. These are initial steps in creating a police state. The centralization is done through building authoritative organizations that control local deviations in behavior and through funding. The funding brings in militarization and central coordination, training, and routines.
From the same source, we next read: “The Nazis offered the police the broadest latitude in arrests, incarceration, and the treatment of prisoners. The police moved to take ‘preventive action’ that is, to make arrests without the evidence required for a conviction in court and indeed without court supervision at all.”
We are seeing in America a broad latitude given to police in making charges against civilians, in mistreating them and getting off the hook, in killing civilians in some cases rather than arresting them, in bringing false evidence into courts, in lying under oath and having their words accepted, and in seizing property. We also see prosecutors suppressing evidence and bringing false charges. Add to these misbehaviors and others the fact that almost anyone can be guilty of one or more felonies. When all is said and done, police are subjecting a significant fraction of America’s population to a police state. . . .
In a house-to-house search, police can find evidence of many wrongdoings. This depends on other laws that are passed and what items may be searched. Police could find a copyright violation on most everyone’s computer, for example. They could find drugs. They could find out-of-date prescription drugs. They could find weapons. They could find cash and seize it. It is the search power combined with other laws that become a powerful tool of repression. . . .
Once searches become routine, i.e., without warrants or under very loose conditions, then police can intrude for any number of activities that the authorities have deemed illegal or a threat to the authority of the State itself. In Russia, this included political speech against the State. In America, all sorts of records of money transactions might be monitored or seized in order to detect “suspicious” political contributions or other activities, for example.
They set a bad precedent in which Americans allow measures that significantly raise the likelihood of further repressive measures in the future. Why does the threat of further repression go up? It’s because these searches are illegal. Undermining rights and respect for rights helps set the stage for further measures that repress liberty. It’s because these searches follow closely upon the heels of other measures that have already laid the foundation of an American police state.