, Salem, MA

October 15, 2013

A look at what others are saying

The Salem News

---- — The following are excerpts from editorials from other newspapers across New England:

The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures of “persons, houses, papers and effects” by government is one of the bulwarks of our free society. The amendment goes on to say that “Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be searched.”

Probable cause, however, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Reasonable people don’t always agree upon just what constitutes probable cause. Nor, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, can a precise definition of probable cause be applicable in every case exist. Determining probable cause will always be a balancing act between the need to protect the public from potential harm and the right of citizens to be free of arrest on unsubstantiated charges. For that reason, citizens and law enforcement alike should welcome the state Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of Lahm v. Farrington. Its decision could add clarity to the law, improve police practices and protect citizens.

The case involves a man who claims he was unfairly arrested and detained on sexual assault charges because the Tilton police failed to adequately investigate the claims of a witness whose truthfulness was later called into question. Based on witness testimony later determined to be inadequate to show probable cause, Kenneth Lahm was arrested, removed from his home by a SWAT team and held in jail over a weekend in 2008. The arrest, Lahm contends, harmed his reputation and cost him legal fees. It could have been avoided, Lahm’s lawyer said, had the police made a minimal attempt to verify the alleged victim’s story.

Some see the case as an attempt to require the police to either go beyond probable cause and determine facts prior to an arrest or risk being sued for negligence. Lose the case, Assistant Senior Attorney General Stephen Fuller argues, and “the ability of the state to protect its citizens, particularly in the domestic violence arena will be eviscerated.” Others in law enforcement share that view, one we believe is a bit overwrought.

In an interview with Monitor reporter Jeremy Blackman, University of New Hampshire School of Law professor Albert Scherr put the dispute in the proper perspective: “What that arrest means is that person may have been put in jail, they may have lost their job, they have been kicked out of school. So the consequences of being arrested are serious enough that we want police to spend the time and really do the work.”

The news of an arrest, and the charges levied, in the information age, is widespread, obtainable by employers and available essentially forever online and unerasable. The price of being arrested has increased. So should the standards used to determine probable cause.

-- The Concord (N.H.) Monitor

Your social network — your friends and their friends — might well have another, uninvited member. The NSA could be following your doings — knowing who calls you and whom you call, who sends you emails, where you go and when you go there. But the agency never sent you a request, asking if you’d mind. It never sent such a request to the citizenry as a whole. It just showed up at the party — and has no plans to leave.

Asked about the monitoring, which was detailed in The New York Times, an agency spokeswoman said:

“All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.

“All of NSA’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose.”

This is so obviously meaningless that it may as well have been read by an NSA computer.

If authorities are looking for connections — people who know people who know people who might be up to no good — the list of who gets watched would very quickly grow awfully long.

Suppose your neighbor’s daughter has a college friend who has traveled to the Middle East. There, he attended a concert by a band that had once had a member who was on a terrorist watch list.

Would the NSA then be keeping an eye on your aunt’s book club members, who, after all, are connected, at least peripherally, to the possible bad actor?

Everyone knows someone who knows someone else. String it out far enough, and we are all connected in some way.

This doesn’t make everyone, every citizen, someone to keep an eye on.

The great American experiment in democracy — a government of, by, for the people — cannot function if an entire secret apparatus of that government views and treats all the citizens — and everyone they are connected with — as potential enemies.

-- The Republican of Springfield