Some folks might be ashamed to use the bodies of dead kids as cover for a power grab. That clearly doesn’t include Martha Coakley.
The Globe and Daily News Transcript reported yesterday that Coakley, along with state senator Gene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea) and state rep John Keenan (D-Salem), have introduced a new bill to massively expand law enforcement’s power to conduct electronic wiretaps of our communications (S. 1726 / HD 1194).
In her press conference, Coakley cited the school shooting in Newtown, and a 2011 case where a murder conviction was overturned because it rested on evidence obtained under a wiretap that was not valid under current Massachusetts law. What the Globe doesn’t mention, but Waltham’s Daily News Transcript does (well done, fellas) is that the murderer in question was convicted later anyway.
In fact, there is not one scrap of evidence that easier electronic wiretapping would have prevented the school shooting in Newtown, or would prevent school shootings here in Massachusetts. The Newtown shooter wasn’t even on Facebook.
More importantly, if the best evidence Coakley and friends can come up with to justify expanding wiretapping powers is a case where they got a conviction in the end anyway, that changes their argument completely. Instead of “this will help us convict more criminals”, they’re really arguing “this will save us some time and expense”.
Sorry, guys. That won’t cut it. Any limit on government investigatory powers makes investigations longer and more expensive. That’s the point. If investigations are costless, everyone will be investigated, because why not? There have to be meaningful legal limits on what government can and cannot do in the course of an investigation. That’s what the Fourth (and Fifth, and Sixth, and Eighth) Amendments are all about.
Last, and most laughably of all, both Coakley and O’Flaherty breathlessly told the press that “criminals have the upper hand” here in Massachusetts. Here’s a graph showing crime rates per head in Massachusetts, using federal crime statistics:
The facts show that crime has been steady at less than 3 reported crimes per 100 residents per year since around 2002, and that that level is the lowest since 1968. Criminals don’t have “the upper hand” here in Massachusetts. Crime is about as low as it’s ever likely to go. There are occasional gory and vivid crimes that catch public attention, like the Mattapan massacre, but they are rare, and getting no more common.
Let’s not kid ourselves what this is about. This is not about reducing crime. Remember, they can’t think of a single case where there’s a criminal walking free today because electronic wiretapping is only allowed under narrow circumstances here in Massachusetts. This is about power. The AG’s office knows that it’s technologically possible for them to monitor more of our electronic communications, and it bugs them that it’s illegal to do, whether or not that monitoring will result in more convictions. So, they’re ginning up false fears of crime, calling this an “update”, and trying to get the people of Massachusetts to agree to join them in the brave new mass-monitored world – which they, not us, would control.
Guys, your arguments don’t make sense. Find better ones or go home.
[Cross-posted at www.warrantless.org]
[UPDATE] A thorough analysis of the proposed legislation is now up at http://warrantless.org/2013/01/coakley-analysi/.