An arrested person.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

The Department of Homeland Security might track travel patterns of suspected domestic extremists, Politico reported Tuesday. That could include "monitor[ing] flights they book on short notice and search[ing] their luggage for weapons," plus putting them on the No-Fly List and targeting them for extra questioning and searches of their digital devices at customs.

DHS will respect "privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties," the agency told Politico — but c'mon.

The use of "suspected" gives the game away. DHS's targets won't have been duly convicted of a crime. Nor is this a focused investigation for prosecution. It's a broad abrogation of constitutionally guaranteed rights of people DHS decides are probably bad.

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Granted, many of the people who would be affected by this approach are honest-to-goodness domestic extremists. (If recent history is any guide, of course, the net would soon spread far wider.) But diminishing due process rights and civil liberties, even for bad people, is bad.

We forget this a lot as a country. We're particularly inclined to forget it when someone very unsympathetic receives correct and lawful treatment from our justice system. When former President Donald Trump's campaign chair Paul Manafort was convicted, the most common pushback I saw to the notion that his punishment shouldn't include prison time because his offenses were nonviolent was that it's not fair for his sentence to be reasonable when the sentences of other, less privileged nonviolent offenders are not. As I wrote then, it's not fair, but making things worse for the lucky few is the exact opposite of what we need.

The same forgetful impulse is visible again this week, after two mass shooters (in Colorado and Georgia) were taken into police custody alive. As many (e.g. this widely shared Instagram meme) have observed, perhaps they wouldn't be alive were their skin a darker shade. The trouble is when the unspoken second half of that is not, "so police should be this careful and competent with everyone," but rather seems to be, "so these bad people should be subjected to police misconduct, too."

No, they shouldn't. Our country won't be made more secure and just with more violence and injustice. We need more due process, more civil liberties, more rule of law, not less.

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