Despite the fact that I don’t smoke pot — because if I do I will be asleep in approximately three minutes — I have long advocated complete legalization. Largely for libertarian reasons but also because the criminal law is essentially unenforceable. But the medical marijuana regulatory scheme interests me as a grand example of government getting something entirely wrong.
The original medical marijuana regulations allowed people to buy from a single supplier or grow their own or designate a grower. While the system was far from perfect, and found to be unconstitutional, it had the advantage of regulating with a very light hand. But, oh Heavens, there was “leakage”. Medical pot was not always only used by medical users. Yikes.
So Health Canada came up with a regulatory scheme which was going to licence grower/distributors and put the users and their growers out of business. Enter Big Green and a bunch of promoters who sold shares in publicly listed companies based on the new regulations. The promoters made a lot of money using a simple story: there were 45,000 medical pot users in Canada (projected to grow to 450,000 users in a decade) who each used about 3 grams a day and who would have no choice but to pay between $8 and $15 a gram for their “medicine”. You do the math.
To my not very great surprise, people used to paying $0 to $5.00 a gram did not rush to sign up. And, very quickly, at least in Vancouver, pot shops – for registered users only of course – began to spring up. Becoming a registered user was not tough. As the 5th Estate guy discovered, telling a naturopath a charming story about stress and sleep disturbance over Skype gets you your registration. At which point you are free to buy. (I note the 5th Estate did not ask the pot shop owners where they were getting their pot – which is a rather good question because it is certainly not from the licenced growers as they are not allowed to sell except by mail order.)
As anyone who has lived in Vancouver knows, the Vancouver Police Department has better things to do than bust dispensaries. Plus, given the injunction halting enforcement of the Health Canada regs, it is not obvious what they would bust the dispensaries for that would have a chance of getting past the Crown. But even if they did bust the dispensary and even if the Crown brought charges, it is pretty difficult to see how a judge could find a person guilty who was selling to a registered user.
The problem is that the boffins at Health Canada have not quite figured out that their regulations are assuming a world which does not exist. First, they assume that people want to smoke “legal pot”. That might be true if police forces were in the habit of kicking down doors to arrest people smoking pot at home but, I fear, that hasn’t happened in years. (It may occasionally occur as a means of harassment but the probable cause issue is usually sufficient to kick the charges.)
Jay Currie, “Gone to Pot”, Jay Currie, 2015-06-15.
January 16, 2017
November 6, 2016
Michael Geist on the drumbeat of revelations — but less outrage than you’d expect — on the extent of surveillance being conducted within Canada by CSIS and law enforcement organizations:
In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations in which the public has become largely numb to new surveillance disclosures, the Canadian reports over the past week will still leave many shocked and appalled. It started with the Ontario Provincial Police mass text messaging thousands of people based on cellphone usage from nearly a year earlier (which is not government surveillance per se but highlights massive geo-location data collection by telecom carriers and extraordinary data retention periods), continued with the deeply disturbing reports of surveillance of journalists in Quebec (which few believe is limited to just Quebec) and culminated in yesterday’s federal court decision that disclosed that CSIS no longer needs warrants for tax records (due to Bill C-51) and took the service to task for misleading the court and violating the law for years on its metadata collection and retention program.
The ruling reveals a level of deception that should eliminate any doubts that the current oversight framework is wholly inadequate and raises questions about Canadian authorities commitment to operating within the law. The court found a breach of a “duty of candour” (which most people would typically call deception or lying) and raises the possibility of a future contempt of court proceeding. While CSIS attempted to downplay the concern by noting that the data collection in question – metadata involving a wide range of information used in a massive data analysis program – was collected under a court order, simply put, the court found that the retention of the data was illegal. Further, the amount of data collection continues to grow (the court states the “scope and volume of incidentally gathered information has been tremendously enlarged”), leading to the retention of metadata that is not part of an active investigation but rather involves non-threat, third party information. In other words, it is precisely the massive, big data metadata analysis program feared by many Canadians.
The court ruling comes after the Security Intelligence Review Committee raised concerned about CSIS bulk data collection in its latest report and recommended that that inform the federal court about the activities. CSIS rejected the recommendation. In fact, the court only became aware of the metadata retention due to the SIRC report and was astonished by the CSIS response, stating that it “shows a worrisome lack of understanding of, or respect for, the responsibilities of a party [SIRC] benefiting from the opportunity to appear ex parte.”
September 14, 2016
Warren Meyer on the attention that the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn, and their apparent problem with deciding on or implementing the next steps:
Well, it appears that Black Lives Matter has moved on to climate activism, or whatever, but has mostly fallen off message on police accountability. Protests in the vague hope of ending racism by closing busy highways and airports and kneeling during the National Anthem are going to get nothing done — the solution to the problems that sparked the BLM movement are to be found in legislative efforts to create better police accountability measures and to roll back a number of egregious protections from accountability that exist in many union contracts. The solution is not to throw blanket hate on police officers, many or most of whom are doing a good job, but to recognize that when we give officers unique powers to use force, they need extra accountability to go with those powers. Today, most police have less accountability for their use of force than you and I do.
Unfortunately, doing that is hard. It is a tough legislative slog that has to go local city by local city, with few national-level shortcuts available. It faces opposition from Conservatives who tend to fetishize police, and from Liberals who are reluctant to challenge a public employees union. And it requires that BLM translate their energy from disruption and attention-grabbing (which they are very good at) to policy and legislation, which they have shown no facility for. They need to be working on model legislation and pushing that down to the local level. This original plan actually looked pretty good, but apparently it has been rejected and gets little or no attention.
As a result, BLM seems to be stuck in a pointless do-loop of disruption and virtue-signalling. I just want to scream at them, “OK, you have our attention — and many of us are sympathetic — what in the hell do you want done?” Unfortunately, their current lists of goals have almost nothing to do with police accountability and appear to be a laundry list of progressive talking points. It appears to be another radical organization that has been jacked by the Democratic establishment to push mainstream Democratic talking points.
Here is a good example, for a number of reasons. In the past, the officer likely would have been believed and the woman might have been convicted of something. I think this happens to people across the racial spectrum, but African-Americans have had a particularly hard time — given both racist perceptions and lack of good counsel — in these he-said-she-said cases with police. Not to mention that African-Americans — for a variety of reasons including racial profiling in things like New York’s stop and frisk program to the tendency of poor black municipalities to fine the crap out of their citizens to generate revenue — come in contact with police disproportionately more often.
September 5, 2016
There were other stories, and commercial breaks, and about thirty minutes later came an update to the shot burglar story: The newscaster now said that it was apparent that the police had shot the homewowner and more details would be forthcoming.
I said to Bobbi: “Dude thinks there’s a robber with a gun outside his house, calls the cops, goes outside with a gun his ownself. Then cops show up, the light on the homeowner’s ‘I’m A Good Guy’ IFF beacon is burnt out, the cops yell ‘Drop the gun, Buddy!’, he thinks ‘Surely they don’t mean me!’, turns toward them, and gets hisself popped.”
Looking at the TV station’s freshly-updated webpage, it looks like that’s more or less what happened […]
- Once the cops have been called, you don’t need to be running around outside with a gun in your hand. The chances for a blue-on-blue shooting skyrocket in incidences like that. Plainclothes officers get shot all the damn time in similar circumstances. It’s easy to tell who the responding officers are because they show up in a car with blinking lights and they’re all dressed the same. You want to not be on the playing field wearing the other team’s uniform when they show up.
- If you are on the playing field when they show up and you hear “Drop the gun!” then you need to drop the gun. Seriously. Like it just turned white-hot. (This is a good reason to carry drop-safe pistols, BTW. I realize that carrying that 1904 Ruritanian army surplus Schnellblitzenselbstlader in 8.3mm semi-rimmed is really cool, but aren’t you going to feel funny getting shot twice when you drop it: Once in the junk by your own gun when it hits the ground ass-end first, and again in the gut by the responding officer because he’s startled by the gunshot?)
Tamara Keel, “Breaking News…”, View From The Porch, 2016-08-23.
September 2, 2016
Daniel Greenfield explains the role of the hijab, the burka, and other “traditional” Islamic clothing for women:
Does it matter what Muslim women wear to the beach? Arguably the government should not be getting involved in swimwear. But the clothing of Muslim women is not a personal fashion choice.
Muslim women don’t wear hijabs, burkas or any other similar garb as a fashion statement or even an expression of religious piety. Their own religion tells us exactly why they wear them.
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies that they may thus be distinguished and not molested.” (Koran 33:59)
It’s not about modesty. It’s not about religion. It’s about putting a “Do Not Rape” sign on Muslim women. And putting a “Free to Molest” sign on non-Muslim women.
This isn’t some paranoid misreading of Islamic scripture. Islamic commentaries use synonyms for “molested” such as “harmed”, “assaulted” and “attacked” because women who aren’t wearing their burkas aren’t “decent” women and can expect to be assaulted by Muslim men. These clothes designate Muslim women as “believing” women or “women of the believers”. That is to say Muslims.
One Koranic commentary is quite explicit. “It is more likely that this way they may be recognized (as pious, free women), and may not be hurt (considered by mistake as roving slave girls.)” The Yazidi girls captured and raped by ISIS are an example of “roving slave girls” who can be assaulted by Muslim men.
Muslim women who don’t want to be mistaken for non-Muslim slave girls had better cover up. And non-Muslim women had better cover up too or they’ll be treated the way ISIS treated Yazidi women and the way that Mohammed and his gang of rapists and bandits treated any woman they came across.
That’s what the burka is. That’s what the hijab is. And that’s what the burkini is.
And this is not just some relic of the past or a horror practiced by Islamic “extremists”. It’s ubiquitous. A French survey found that 77 percent of girls wore the hijab because of threats of Islamist violence. It’s numbers like these that have led to the French ban of the burka and now of the burkini.
When clothing becomes a license to encourage harassment, then it’s no longer a private choice.
On the other hand, Daniel Pipes says the burkini poses no threat and should not be banned:
France has been seized by a silly hysteria over the burkini, prompting me to wonder when Europeans will get serious about their Islamist challenge.
For starters, what is a burkini? The word (sometimes spelled burqini) combines the names of two opposite articles of female clothing: the burqa (an Islamic tent-like, full-body covering) and the bikini. Also known as a halal swimsuit, it modestly covers all but the face, hands and feet, consisting of a top and a bottom. It resembles a wetsuit with a head covering.
Aheda Zanetti of Ahiida Pty Ltd in Australia claims to have coined the portmanteau in 2003, calling it “smaller than a burka” while “two piece like a bikini.” The curious and sensational cross of two radically dissimilar articles of clothing along with the need it fit for active, pious Muslim women, the burkini (as Ahiida notes) was “the subject of an immediate rush of interest and demand.” Additionally, some women (like British cooking celebrity Nigella Lawson) wear it to avoid a tan, while pious Jews have adopted a variant garment.
[…] the burkini poses no danger to public security. Unlike the burqa or niqab, it leaves the face uncovered; relatively tight-fitting, it leaves no place to hide weapons. Men cannot wear it as a disguise. Further, while there are legitimate arguments about the hygiene of large garments in pools (prompting some hotels in Morocco to ban the garment), this is obviously not an issue on the coastal beaches of France.
Accordingly, beach burkinis should be allowed without restriction. Cultural arguments, such as the one made by Valls, are specious and discriminatory. If a woman wishes to dress modestly on the beach, that is her business, and not the state’s. It’s also her prerogative to choose unflattering swimwear that waterlogs when she swims.
August 26, 2016
France, like the rest of the liberal West, gets this exactly and lethally wrong. First we forbid individuals their natural right to set the rules within their own property, to exclude and admit who they choose, to demand the burkini or to ban it. Then we set the law on people for the crime of wearing too much cloth on the public beach. A photograph is reproduced worldwide showing three armed male policemen standing over a Muslim woman and making her remove the clothes she considers necessary for modesty. Whatever your opinion of Islam and its clothing taboos, does anyone in the world believe that this makes the next jihadist attack less likely? To call it “security theatre” would be a compliment. The popular entertainment it calls to mind is that of the mob stripping and parading une femme tondue.
Natalie Solent, “Security strip”, Samizdata, 2016-08-24.
January 7, 2016
Some advice for the beleaguered and backward states of Illinois, Massachusetts, et al.: If police are not obliged to ask our permission before recording their public encounters with us, then we should not be obliged to ask their permission before recording our public encounters with them. That states generally dominated by so-called progressives should be so insistent upon asymmetric police powers and special privileges for government’s armed agents is surprising only to those who do not understand the basic but seldom-spoken truth about progressivism: The welfare state is the police state.
Why Illinois Republicans are on board is another matter, bringing up the eternal question that conservatives can expect to be revisiting frequently after January: What, exactly, is the point of the Republican party?
Illinois is attempting to resurrect what the state’s politicians pretend is a privacy-protecting anti-surveillance law; in reality, it is the nearly identical reincarnation of the state’s earlier anti-recording law, the main purpose of which was to charge people who record police encounters with a felony, an obvious and heavy-handed means of discouraging such recording. Illinois’s state supreme court threw the law out on the grounds that police do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when carrying out their duties, though police and politicians argued the contrary — apparently, some part of the meaning of the phrase “public servants” eludes them. The new/old law is, by design, maddeningly vague, and will leave Illinois residents unsure of which encounters may be legally recorded and which may not.
Here is the solution: Pass a law explicitly recognizing the right of citizens to record police officers. It is important to note that such a law would recognize a right rather than create one: Government has no legitimate power to forbid free people from using cameras, audio-recording devices, or telephones in public to document the business of government employees. The statute would only clarify that Americans — even in Illinois — already are entitled to that right.
Kevin D. Williamson, “Prairie State Police State”, National Review, 2014-12-10.
December 20, 2015
In the town of Rotherham, the local police have been effectively hiding a massive criminal conspiracy for fear of being accused of racism:
Fifteen years ago, when these crimes were just beginning, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry into the conduct of the British police was made by Sir William Macpherson a High Court judge. The immediate occasion had been a murder in which the victim was black, the perpetrators white, and the behaviour of the investigating police lax and possibly prejudiced. The report accused the police – not just those involved in the case, but the entire police force of the country – of ‘institutionalised racism’. This piece of sociological newspeak was, at the time, very popular with leftist sociologists. For it made an accusation which could not be refuted by anyone who had the misfortune to be accused of it.
However well you behaved, however scrupulously you treated people of different races and without regard to their ethnic identity or the colour of their skin, you would be guilty of ‘institutionalised racism’, simply on account of the institution to which you belonged and on behalf of which you were acting. Not surprisingly, sociologists and social workers, the vast majority of whom are professionally disposed to believe that middle class society is incurably racist, latched on to the expression. MacPherson too climbed onto the bandwagon since, at the time, it was the easiest and safest way to wash your hands in public, to say that I, at least, am not guilty of the only crime that is universally recognised and everywhere in evidence.
The result of this has been that police forces lean over backwards to avoid the accusation of racism, while social workers will hesitate to intervene in any case in which they could be accused of discriminating against ethnic minorities. Matters are made worse by the rise of militant Islam, which has added to the old crime of racism the new crime of ‘Islamophobia’. No social worker today will risk being accused of this crime. In Rotherham a social worker would be mad, and a police officer barely less so, to set out to investigate cases of suspected sexual abuse, when the perpetrators are Asian Muslims and the victims ethnically English. Best to sweep it under the carpet, find ways of accusing the victims or their parents or the surrounding culture of institutionalised racism, and attending to more urgent matters such as the housing needs of recent immigrants, or the traffic offences committed by those racist middle classes.
Americans too are familiar with this syndrome. Political correctness among sociologists comes from socialist convictions and the tired old theories that produce them. But among ordinary people it comes from fear. The people of Rotherham know that it is unsafe for a girl to take a taxi-ride from someone with Asian features; they know that Pakistani Muslims often do not treat white girls with the respect that they treat girls from their own community. They know, and have known over fifteen years, that there are gangs of predators on the look-out for vulnerable girls, and that the gangs are for the most part Asian young men who see English society not as the community to which they belong, but as a sexual hunting ground. But they dare not express this knowledge, in either words or deed. Still less do they dare to do so if their job is that of social worker or police officer. Let slip the mere hint that Pakistani Muslims are more likely than indigenous Englishmen to commit sexual crimes and you will be branded as a racist and an Islamophobe, to be ostracised in the workplace and put henceforth under observation.
December 1, 2015
Cory Doctorow on the intersection of adolescent rage and police militarization, complicated by an international border:
“Obnoxious” is the online name of British Columbia teenager who spent years destroying the lives of women who had the audacity to create popular, lucrative channels on Twitch in which they streamed their amazing video-game play.
Obnoxious would get their IP addresses, dox them, DDoS them, try to blackmail them into befriending him and then to performing on-camera sex-acts for him, he would order pizzas and other crap to their homes, and then he would swat them.
“Swatting” is when you call someone’s local police force and pretend that you are a crazed gunman/bomber in their house, so that the cops show up locked and loaded, fingers on the trigger. At best, you terrorize your victim and her family; at worse, you get the police to murder one or more of them.
Jerks and people with emotional problems have used bomb threats and similar methods for decades. I went to a school where one kid — who was already in and out of residential psychiatric facilities — would routinely call in bomb threats. The precautionary principle applied — we’d go stand on the lawn and the cops would search the building — but there was none of today’s auto-immune disorder, no MRAPs parked on the lawn and cops in Afghanistan-surplus military gear hup-hupping through hallways with their fingers on the triggers.
Shutting down “Obnoxious” proved to be nearly impossible. The jurisdictional problems of getting Canadian cops to care about crimes in America, combined with American cops’ ignorance of “cyber” and tendency to blame the victims (a cop told one survivor of repeat swattings was told to stop playing games and “just pick up a book” to avoid more trouble), combined with the diffused nature of the crimes meant that Obnoxious operated with near-total impunity as he attacked more and more women.
October 15, 2015
Jacob Sullum points out a few misconceptions about sentencing reform:
Anderson, with Sessions’ help, manages to pack at least half a dozen serious misconceptions into a 375-word post. Let’s consider them one at a time.
Is “crime rising in America”? As Jesse Walker noted here last month, the latest FBI numbers show that violent and property crime both fell last year, continuing a “long decline” that began in the mid-1990s. Although some American cities have seen spikes in violent crime this year, it is not clear whether they represent a nationwide increase or, if so, whether that increase represents a reversal of recent trends or a blip.
Are police “increasingly under siege”? Last month my former Reason colleague Radley Balko, who writes about criminal justice for The Washington Post, reported that “2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers” and that “if that pace holds, this year would end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades.” As Jesse Walker pointed out here, such numbers have never deterred law-and-order types who propagate “the eternally recurring legend of a ‘war on cops.'”
Are drug traffickers “violent criminals”? Some are, but there is a clear distinction between stabbing or shooting someone and engaging in consensual transactions that Congress has arbitrarily decided to prohibit. Under current law, doing the latter is enough to trigger mandatory minimum sentences ranging from five years to life. By pretending there is no difference between violent predators and nonviolent drug offenders, opponents of reform make a hash out of any effort to focus criminal justice resources on the lawbreakers who pose the biggest threat to public safety.
October 11, 2015
“Anybody could rule this country,” said George; “I could rule it.”
We were seated in the garden of the Kaiser Hof at Bonn, looking down upon the Rhine. It was the last evening of our Bummel; the early morning train would be the beginning of the end.
“I should write down all I wanted the people to do on a piece of paper,” continued George; “get a good firm to print off so many copies, have them posted about the towns and villages; and the thing would be done.”
In the placid, docile German of to-day, whose only ambition appears to be to pay his taxes, and do what he is told to do by those whom it has pleased Providence to place in authority over him, it is difficult, one must confess, to detect any trace of his wild ancestor, to whom individual liberty was as the breath of his nostrils; who appointed his magistrates to advise, but retained the right of execution for the tribe; who followed his chief, but would have scorned to obey him. In Germany to-day one hears a good deal concerning Socialism, but it is a Socialism that would only be despotism under another name. Individualism makes no appeal to the German voter. He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and regulated in all things. He disputes, not government, but the form of it. The policeman is to him a religion, and, one feels, will always remain so. In England we regard our man in blue as a harmless necessity. By the average citizen he is employed chiefly as a signpost, though in busy quarters of the town he is considered useful for taking old ladies across the road. Beyond feeling thankful to him for these services, I doubt if we take much thought of him. In Germany, on the other hand, he is worshipped as a little god and loved as a guardian angel. To the German child he is a combination of Santa Claus and the Bogie Man. All good things come from him: Spielplätze to play in, furnished with swings and giant-strides, sand heaps to fight around, swimming baths, and fairs. All misbehaviour is punished by him. It is the hope of every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police. To be smiled at by a policeman makes it conceited. A German child that has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with; its self-importance is unbearable.
The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer. The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast to walk. At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the German how to cross it. Were there no policeman there, he would probably sit down and wait till the river had passed by. At the railway station the policeman locks him up in the waiting-room, where he can do no harm to himself. When the proper time arrives, he fetches him out and hands him over to the guard of the train, who is only a policeman in another uniform. The guard tells him where to sit in the train, and when to get out, and sees that he does get out. In Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well. You are not supposed to look after yourself; you are not blamed for being incapable of looking after yourself; it is the duty of the German policeman to look after you. That you may be a helpless idiot does not excuse him should anything happen to you. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you are in his charge, and he takes care of you — good care of you; there is no denying this.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
October 10, 2015
There’s plenty of argument about whether body cams are a pro- or anti-police innovation. Here’s an example of the way body cams can actually help to show when the police are doing everything right, and things still go wrong:
We’ve written a lot here at Ars about how video surveillance has captured cops doing bad things. We cover this area because the technology of body cams, Taser cams, dash cams, and even images taken by bystanders has changed our perspective on police behavior that would likely have been swept under the rug previously.
But this surveillance technology also captures officers who, in the words of a local Cleveland county prosecutor, have acted with “remarkable restraint.” In this instance, body cam footage of several Cleveland patrol officers shows them doing everything they could to convince a man to put down his weapon.
Police came to visit Theodore Johnson’s Cleveland residence after his wife claimed he threatened to kill her. The man had already shot one officer, striking the chest of a patrolman David Muniz’s ballistic vest. “I know you shot me, but I’m not going to shoot you,” Muniz tells the 64-year-old Johnson, according to police body cam footage taken at the scene.
To be honest, I’m quite impressed at the restraint these officers managed to show. If a member of my team had just been shot, I know it’d be very tough for me not to return fire…
September 28, 2015
I’ve written on many occasions about what I call universal criminality, the crowning achievement of the modern police state, under which there are so many vague, overbroad and counterintuitive laws that every single person is in violation of at least a few of them at all times. Nearly any encounter with the police can be turned into “assault on a police officer” or “resisting arrest”, almost any business can be twisted into “racketeering”, virtually any financial transaction can be redefined as “money laundering” and even normal friendships or business interactions can be tortured into “conspiracy”. But while charges like these can be used to harass, bankrupt and imprison the target, possibly for many years, they often lack the firepower necessary to totally destroy his life forever; after his release from prison he might still be able to find work, have a normal social life and rebuild his shattered fortunes into some semblance of a comfortable existence. Worst of all (from the prosecutorial viewpoint), the public might even side with the victim, turning him into a martyr both during and after his state-sanctioned torture and caging. But there is one weapon in the state’s arsenal which, used properly, will utterly destroy a person’s life. At the end of the process he will have no money, no friends and no home; he will be completely unemployable and condemned to everlasting surveillance, shunned by society and unable even to avail himself of even paid companionship without triggering still more awful consequences. If the prosecutor is really lucky, his victim may even be murdered by the police or other thugs or take his own life. And all it takes to detonate this thermonuclear weapon of modern law is the sending of a single email.
Maggie McNeill, “Instant Criminal”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-09-19.
September 10, 2015
Megan McArdle explains that while it’s quite understandable why governments want to maintain their technological ability to read private, personal communications … but that’s not sufficient justification to just give in and allow them the full access they claim that they “need”:
Imagine, if you will, a law that said all doors had to be left unlocked so that the police could get in whenever they needed to. Or at the very least, a law mandating that the government have a master key.
That’s essentially what some in the government want for your technology. As companies like Apple and Google have embraced stronger encryption, they’re making it harder for the government to do the kind of easy instant collection that companies were forced into as the government chased terrorists after 9/11.
And how could you oppose that government access? After all, the government keeps us safe from criminals. Do you really want to make it easier for criminals to evade the law?
The analogy with your home doors suggests the flaw in this thinking: The U.S. government is not the only entity capable of using a master key. Criminals can use them too. If you create an easy way to bypass security, criminals — or other governments — are going to start looking for ways to reproduce the keys.
Law enforcement is going to pursue strategies that maximize the ability to catch criminals or terrorists. These are noble goals. But we have to take care that in the pursuit of these goals, the population they’re trying to protect is not forgotten. Every time we open more doors for our own government, we’re inviting other unwelcome guests to join them inside.
I don’t really blame law enforcement for pushing as hard as possible; rare is the organization in history that has said, “You know, the world would be a better place if I had less power to do my job.” But that makes it more imperative that the rest of us keep an eye on what they’re doing, and force the law to account for tradeoffs, rather than the single-minded pursuit of one goal.
August 18, 2015
In the Washington Post, Radley Balko looks at some documentation recently acquired by Mother Jones showing how police departments explain why they need war-fighting tools for police work:
Mother Jones got ahold of some of the forms police agencies fill out when requesting military gear from the Pentagon. They’re pretty revealing.
… the single most common reason agencies requested a mine-resistant vehicle was to combat drugs. Fully a quarter of the 465 requests projected using the vehicles for drug enforcement. Almost half of all departments indicated that they sit within a region designated by the federal government as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. (Nationwide, only 17 percent of counties are HIDTAs.) One out of six departments were prepared to use the vehicles to serve search or arrest warrants on individuals who had yet to be convicted of a crime. And more than half of the departments indicated they were willing to deploy armored vehicles in a broad range of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) raids.
Police officials frequently say they need these behemoth vehicles to protect officers from active shooters. But that isn’t what they’re telling the Pentagon when they request them.
By contrast, out of the total 465 requests, only 8 percent mention the possibility of a barricaded gunman. For hostage situations, the number is 7 percent, for active shooters, 6 percent. Only a handful mentioned downed officers or the possibility of terrorism.
“This is a great example of how police as an institution talk to each other privately, versus how they talk to the public and journalists who might raise questions about what they’re doing with this equipment,” says Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University who has studied police militarization for decades. When police are pressured in public, Kraska says, “They’re going to say, ‘How about Columbine?’ or point to all these extremely rare circumstances.”
Kraska is correct to call such situations extremely rare. Despite the saturation coverage mass shootings get, statistically, the odds of one occurring in your immediate community are still incredibly low. I suspect one big reason the public hasn’t been more outspoken in opposing the transfer of this sort of gear is because most people think such shootings are more common than they are. That’s mostly because the media have been good at scaring people into thinking as much. (Ironically, one of the media outlets most guilty of overstating the frequency of such events … is Mother Jones.)