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How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties

by David K. Shipler

Pub Date: April 20th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4362-0
Publisher: Knopf

As the country wages simultaneous “wars” against drugs and terrorism, a former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize–winning author warns against trading our freedoms for the illusion of security.

Identifying five periods in American history when the Bill of Rights has been under particular assault, Shipler (The Working Poor: Invisible in America, 2004, etc.) argues that we are in the middle of a sixth, a post-9/11 era in which our liberties are once again endangered. After promising a second volume about the erosion of the Bill’s other guarantees, he focuses here on the Fourth Amendment, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and its accompanying proscription against the issuance of warrants without probable cause. As he traces the legal, physical boundaries between the individual and the state, Shipler considers a number of scenarios that arise under the Amendment: the stop-and-frisk of a pedestrian, the search of a car or home and the articles within, whether hidden or in plain view; law-enforcement strategies like safety checkpoints and sting operations, the use of wiretapping and data mining; the shortcuts taken by cops that not infrequently includes their “testilying”; the indifference of judges and juries to perjury; prosecutors who suppress exculpatory evidence and who too often rely on junk forensics to secure convictions; the increasing “privatization” of searches, where privately held data gets handed over to the government; and the whittling away of the exclusionary rule. Shipler’s sure grasp of frequently impenetrable Supreme Court opinions (translated nicely for the non-lawyer), his engaged reporting and his generally evenhanded assessment of the reasons for these sometimes abrupt, but mostly incremental intrusions on our freedoms make for an informed, persuasive argument.

A timely call for vigilance, for insisting on the protections the Framers provided against an always overreaching government.