Friday, March 14, 2008
Alan Dershowitz makes a pretty strong point:
Even if Mr. Spitzer's derelictions were serendipitously discovered as a result of routine, computerized examination of bank transactions, the dangers inherent in selective use of overbroad criminal statutes remain. Money laundering, structuring and related financial crimes are designed to ferret out organized crime, drug dealing, terrorism and large-scale financial manipulation. They were not enacted to give the federal government the power to inquire into the sexual or financial activities of men who move money in order to hide payments to prostitutes.
Once federal authorities concluded that the "suspicious financial transactions" attributed to Mr. Spitzer did not fit into any of the paradigms for which the statutes were enacted, they should have closed the investigation. It's simply none of the federal government's business that a man may have been moving his own money around in order to keep his wife in the dark about his private sexual peccadilloes.
But the authorities didn't close the investigation. They expanded it, because they had caught a big fish in the wide net they had cast.
In this case, they wiretapped 5,000 phone conversations, intercepted 6,000 emails, used surveillance and undercover tactics that are more appropriate for trapping terrorists than entrapping johns.
If the federal government really wanted to shut down these operations, they could easily do it without a single wiretap or email intercept. All they would have to do is get an undercover agent to answer the ads, arrange for the "escort" to go from New York to New Jersey and be arrested. But many in law enforcement would much rather reserve these statutes for selective use against predetermined targets.
I would ordinarily be convinced except that we know that if Eliot Spitzer were the prosecutor and he had caught the Governor of New York in his net, what the result would have been. Spitzer played fast and loose with his power, and it is only appropriate that he got the same treatment.
Megan McCardle argues that " I think maybe we should spy on our politicians, all the time. I think it's entirely appropriate that the anti-corruption police watch politicians like hawks. They've chosen public office; that conveys a lot of responsibility to the public, including assuring them that your votes aren't being bought outright. I also think that politicians, when caught in a crime, should automatically get the maximum penalty; if they think the law is such a good idea, they ought to suffer heartily when they disregard it."
Well, I have a lot of sympathy with that sentiment, but I am concerned about getting good people to run for office, and such spying would deter both the good and bad ones. Now perhaps you could convince me it would deter more of the good ones, but I need to be convinced.