The police state, a term first coined in the mid-19th century in German (Polizeistaat), is characterized by a standing political police, by intense domestic surveillance and by restrictions on the movements of citizens. Police states are on a spectrum, and unfortunately in the past decade the United States has moved toward police-stateness in small but key ways. Here are the signs:
1. The United States National Security Administration recently requisitioned all Verizon phone records in the US for a period of 3 months. Your telephone records (who you called and for how long) say a great deal about you. This is a form of mass surveillance.
2. The US has assigned 250 NSA agents to sift through a massive further British database of US telecommunications and email, derived from attaching packet analyzers to transatlantic fiber optic cables.
3. The Federal government claims the right to examine the contents of the laptops of US citizens whenever they enter the United States, in contravention of the Fourth Amendment. Some 60 million Americans travel abroad annually.
4. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Those in prison have grown from 220 per 100,000 population to over 700 per 100,000 population since 1980. The US holds over two million inmates, and has 6 million people at any one time under carceral supervision– more than were in Stalin’s Gulag. State spending on prisons has risen at 6 times the rate of spending on higher education.
5. Some 6 million persons convicted of felonies have been disenfranchised and cannot vote. Most are not in prison. Because of the ‘war on drugs,’ many of these persons are not actually guilty of serious crimes. The practice hits the poor and minorities. Some 7 percent of African-Americans are ineligible to vote, but less than 2 percent of whites are.
6. Police can take DNA samples of all arrestees on serious crimes, whether they are proven guilty or not. Even Justice Scalia believes the ruling opens the door for DNA sample collection for all arrests. Some 13 million Americans are arrested annually, 1.6 million on drugs charges and half of those on marijuana charges.
7. American police are becoming militarized, with SWAT teams proliferating, and use of drones, GPS tracking devices, and military equipment, as well as participation of National Guards in the ‘war on drugs.’
8. Legislators are increasingly attempting to criminalize public protest, as with a current bill that would make it a crime knowingly to ‘trespass’ in security zones where persons are found who are under secret service protection. Authorities have sometimes also attempted to restrict public protesters to “protest zones”, thus keeping them out of the view of news cameras.
9. The USA PATRIOT Act institutes gag orders that are a violation of the 1st Amendment, forbidding persons and companies from revealing that the government has secretly asked for surveillance records.
10. The same act allows government agencies (including the Pentagon) to issue “National Security Letters” without any warrant, making broad and unspecific demands for records on large numbers of persons.