The two scariest words the government uses as an excuse to infringe on our rights are “common sense.” They use these words whenever they want to extend their reach over the citizenry without being able to justify a proposed action on its merits. The latest example? Martha Coakley’s “common-sense step” to allow wiretapping of all people accused of murder or other violent crimes (“Bill seeks end to strict limit on targets of wiretap law,” Metro, Jan. 28).
The justification? Violent street gangs apparently don’t fall under the definition of organized crime in the current statute, making it more difficult for the police to close cases involving them. To many of us the solution would be obvious: Just change the definition of organized crime in the statute to include organized street gangs. Considering gangs’ proliferation, and the existence in many communities of police units specifically set up to combat them, this shouldn’t be a big leap.
But instead, the attorney general wants blanket authority to wiretap anyone accused of one of these crimes — essentially a 30-day fishing trip over anyone they choose as well as against anyone they are in contact with.
Once that’s in place, how long until the list of crimes covered by the wiretap law got expanded? After all, it would only be “common sense.”
Should the statute be updated to cover changes in communication methods since it was first written? Yes. But should its use be expanded indefinitely at the discretion of investigators? No.