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Guest Column

Time to police the government

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Cartoon by Cole

The balance between the police and the policed is getting way out of whack - and we better restore it now.

I speak of a spate of new technologies - high-tech cameras, satellites and now, drones being flown over U.S. soil - that are giving police and government way too much power over the average Joe.

Our country was founded by people who were wary of government power, you see. They were wary of government do-gooders attaining too much control, as they knew that absolute power always corrupts absolutely.

So they implemented checks and balances to limit that power.

They knew, too, however, that human nature is imperfect...that there will always be crooks, murderers and con men and that government must provide average, law-abiding citizens with basic protections against those who seek to do them harm.

Thus, our Constitution was designed to strike a proper balance between police and government agencies and the citizens they police.

The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights, for instance, guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires probable cause and a judicially sanctioned warrant before the police are permitted to enter one's home.

The idea was to protect the liberties of the average Joe by putting the burden on police and government agencies. Better that 10 guilty men go free than to convict a single innocent man.

This proper balance between the police and the policed worked well for many years. But technology is upending that balance.

Consider: back in the '50s and '60s, when my father was a young man, there were speed traps, just as there are now. When one driver saw a police car hiding behind shrubs, he flashed his high beams at oncoming drivers to warn them to slow down. The policed collaborated against the police and all was well.

The police had it tough back then. To gauge a driver's speed, an officer had to work a manual stopwatch, then do math. The process was so imprecise, the odds weren't bad that the ticket would be tossed out in court or reduced to a lesser charge.

Now the police have precise VASCAR and radar technologies. Hidden speed cameras are popping up all over the place. New technologies are even making it possible to monitor speeds using satellites!

While such technologies may benefit drivers by slowing traffic at dangerous intersections, there is a downside: the average Joe will soon be helpless in the face of small-town police who use such technologies to establish lucrative, high-tech speed traps.

But as technology upends the balance between the police and the policed, that is the least of the average Joe's worries.

Did you know our federal government is using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) - much like the drones it uses to monitor and kill enemies overseas - to monitor U.S. citizens?

Did you know, says Investor's Business Daily, that the EPA is conducting surveillance on farmers in Nebraska and Iowa, looking for violations of the Clean Water Act?

Did you know that the Federal Aviation Administration has loosened restrictions on the use of drones by the nation's 18,000 local police departments?

How long will it be before quiet little planes monitor our speed and everything else we do?

How long before illegal searches, forbidden by the Fourth Amendment, are commonplace?

We must stop the drones now.

Flashing our high beams won't matter a whit once the balance between the police and the policed gets that far out of whack.

- Tom Purcell is a freelance writer and columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Purcell@caglecartoons.com).

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