Search and Seizure

From the NY Times:

San Diego County’s district attorney has a program called Project 100% that is intended to reduce welfare fraud. Applicants for welfare benefits are visited by law enforcement agents, who show up unannounced and examine the family’s home, including the insides of cabinets and closets. Applicants who refuse to let the agents in are generally denied benefits.

As the Times editorial notes, “The program does not meet the standards set out by the Fourth Amendment. For a search to be reasonable, there generally must be some kind of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.” So why did the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allow these this to happen–and the Supreme Court refuse to hear an appeal? According to the Times the Court reasoned that “…the home visits are not “searches.”

WTF? This kind of thing drives me nuts. For two reasons. One, there is a potential for fraud in many many situations. Let’s say I own an insurance company and someone makes a claim saying their property has been damaged or stolen. Does that give me the right to search the person’s house unannounced? Same for many other insurance claims. Let’s say I own retail store. By opening my doors I know someone is going to shoplift something. Does that give me the right to search the cars or homes of my customers? Clearly businesses and the government have the right and duty to minimize fraud, but there are limits because—this the other reason this pisses me off—100% fraud elimination is not the goal. If you are going to have insurance, welfare programs, even retail stores—-there is going to be some fraud, some dishonesty.  That’s a given. The goal is to minimize it within the bounds of reasonable investigations—not unleash Big Brother so that we can achieve zero fraud.

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