Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

My letter to Bruce Schneider

Schneider wrote an editorial piece in February ’07 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on private police and threats to civil liberties.

Bruce Schneier: Privatizing the Police Puts Us at Greater Risk

He makes a case, but, in my opinion does not manage to defeat the principle of private police. Here is my reply:

Dear Mr. Schneider,

Your editorial published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Privatizing the Police Puts Us at Greater Risk) – is interesting, but I believe your arguments are not sufficient for a wholesale condemnation of private police.

First, we need to distinguish between two services provided by private police: “protection” and “law enforcement”.

The first function is strictly a private contract between companies or individuals, an exchange of a service called “protection”. This can be seen as a complement to standard police services, but not a competitor. The government police has no direct responsibility to protect individuals from harm, even if it is expected to interveine. A private agent, on the other hand, is bound by contract to provide this protection, and can face direct penalties if he does not do so.

In fact, private protection is an extension of the right to self defense. Surely, private protection agencies working just within the confines of this function are legitimate.

The second function is has an active character, where private police officers are hired (presumably) by local governments to solve crimes and pursue criminals. We can call this “law enforcement”, to contrast with “protection”. I suspect here lie the dangers you point to and where constitutional protections may be foregone.

However, notice that the first function rests on a private contract, while the second comes from an agreement with some form of government. The only reason private police can act in the way you describe is due to the privileges granted by these government entities. Civil liberties do not exist because the government allows them to exist, but governments may award certain privileges that go beyond them. This is the case with private law enforcement. If these companies can act as law enforcement, they can only do so under the authority granted by a government. And so, the critiques, if any, must be directed at that specific government entity and not private police in general. Indeed, there should be no reason private law enforcement should not be bound by the same restrictions as state police.

Note that law enforcement may be understood in a wider sense than acting under government license. Citizen’s arrests may fall under the rights/privileges of any individual. So if these individuals act as private policemen, they are legitimate as long as there are uniform criteria in place that apply to all individuals. In other words, it should not matter if a private citizen performs a citizen’s arrest, or a private policeman, so long as the latter has no different standards that apply to him.

I hope the above is sufficient to make the case in favor of the principle of private protection and to distinguish it from private law enforcement, some negative effects of which you have noted.

Yours Truly,