Unless the search passes certain legal criteria, it is illegal.
The search in Boston set a precedent, which means that such searches can be generalized to other places in America and to other situations, unless whoever authorized the Boston search is reprimanded and sanctioned for having ordered it. That seems to be Governor Deval Patrick, at a minimum.
Unless this search is clearly labeled and understood as being illegal and wrong, it creates a precedent. This changes the law de facto, even if not de jure. A de facto change will become a de jure change if only by interpretation
But what's bad about such a precedent? What's bad about the police having the power to make house-to-house searches routinely?
Consider what sorts of searches were common in totalitarian countries. This provides an inkling of the results of such police power.
First of all, America is in some respects following a path that Nazi Germany followed. I quote from one account:
"Police manpower was even extended by the incorporation of Nazi paramilitary organizations as auxiliary policemen. The Nazis centralized and fully funded the police to better combat criminal gangs and promote state security. The Nazi state increased staff and training, and modernized police equipment."
This has been happening in America for some time now. These are initial steps in creating a police state. The centralization is done through building authoritative organizations that control local deviations in behavior and through funding. The funding brings in militarization and central coordination, training, and routines.
From the same source, we next read
"The Nazis offered the police the broadest latitude in arrests, incarceration, and the treatment of prisoners. The police moved to take 'preventive action' that is, to make arrests without the evidence required for a conviction in court and indeed without court supervision at all."
We are seeing in America a broad latitude given to police in making charges against civilians, in mistreating them and getting off the hook, in killing civilians in some cases rather than arresting them, in bringing false evidence into courts, in lying under oath and having their words accepted, and in seizing property. We also see prosecutors suppressing evidence and bringing false charges. Add to these misbehaviors and others the fact that almost anyone can be guilty of one or more felonies. When all is said and done, police are subjecting a significant fraction of America's population to a police state.
Highway and transportation searches are already common. Here's a photo dated Feb. 27, 1933 of German police searching a car for arms:
America is not going to follow what Nazi Germany did in any kind of lockstep fashion. There is too much variation in situations and events and laws for any two societies to mimic one another precisely. The American police state already has some unique features such as the LOCKDOWN. The spectacle of Americans being routed from their homes with raised arms and herded down the street is not too far, however, from German soldiers arresting Jews in Warsaw in 1943:
In a house-to-house search, police can find evidence of many wrongdoings. This depends on other laws that are passed and what items may be searched. Police could find a copyright violation on most everyone's computer, for example. They could find drugs. They could find out-of-date prescription drugs. They could find weapons. They could find cash and seize it. It is the search power combined with other laws that become a powerful tool of repression.
"The Nazis took control and transformed the traditional police forces of the Weimar Republic into an instrument of state repression and, eventually, of genocide."
Even without other law, the mere interaction of common people with police in house-to-house searches can result in arguments, altercations, arrests, injuries and deaths. The police expect obedience and deference. In Watertown, they demanded that people leave their homes and raise their arms over their heads. There are many situations where people don't want to leave, or cannot due to illness, or who do not understand what's going on, or refuse to kowtow, or who naturally resist intimidation. Arrests and charges lead to criminal records and subsequently affect everything from employment to getting a loan to traveling to having a firearm.
In an article on one of the Russian police agencies while under Communist rule, we read
"Leonid Brezhnev reverted the State and KGB to actively harsh suppression ? routine house searches to seize documents and the continual monitoring of dissidents."
Once searches become routine, i.e., without warrants or under very loose conditions, then police can intrude for any number of activities that the authorities have deemed illegal or a threat to the authority of the State itself. In Russia, this included political speech against the State. In America, all sorts of records of money transactions might be monitored or seized in order to detect "suspicious" political contributions or other activities, for example.
House-to-house searches, of course, make hash out of privacy.
So, in short, what is bad about these house-to-house searches that we have just witnessed?
They set a bad precedent in which Americans allow measures that significantly raise the likelihood of further repressive measures in the future. Why does the threat of further repression go up? It's because these searches are illegal. Undermining rights and respect for rights helps set the stage for further measures that repress liberty. It's because these searches follow closely upon the heels of other measures that have already laid the foundation of an American police state.
This is the direction in which America is headed.
The reason for this direction is terrorism directed at America. The reason for the terrorism is the conclusion among the men engaging in it that Islam is under attack and/or that the lands in which Islam is prominent are under attack.
Washington will continue to go into places like Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, and therefore retaliation can be expected. The empire will continue to use drones that kill innocents. It will continue to pressure Iran. It will continue undermining Syria. It will continue to try to change the politics of these lands. It will continue with its benighted Israel policy. It will continue to support the military-industrial complex, which is one major source of all of this unnecessary expansion.
Consequently, at home, it will continue to turn America into a target for jihadist attacks, and it will continue police measures that can easily turn the whole country into a police state.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.