A recent editorial on America’s sex crime laws is a nice demonstration of how the protection of the individual from the unjust application of power by the state is one of the most important kinds of human security. Pursuing criminal charges against teenagers who have sex with other teenagers – and even those who send explicit images of themselves to one another – is a lunatic way for the state to apply the law. Rather than protecting anyone, such a petty act of over-enforcement can seriously wreck the lives of those the law was intended to protect: especially when they end up on life-long public sex offender registries that do not specify what led to their initial arrest. All this becomes even more dangerous as the state gets more and more power to observe the lives of its citizens, shrinking the extent of formally private spheres (such as correspondence) where it would not previously have been watching.
It certainly bears remembering that the state is a beast that walks with a heavy, and sometimes clumsy, step. That’s something that must be borne in mind especially when the population is especially afraid of a nebulous threat, such as sex criminals or terrorists. Failing to appreciate that the application of state power can cause profound harm, as well as protection, to human security is what produces injustices like torture, Guantanamo Bay, the internment of those of Japanese descent during the Second World War, and so forth. When people are afraid, they care little about the rights of those they fear; equally damagingly, they show little appreciation for how harsh new approaches undermine the very systems they are established with the intention of protecting. Set upon the wrong course, the state is a far more dangerous entity than any terrorist organization.
Finally, there is the well-reasoned furour about the RCMP performing its own criminal investigations on officers. In any large organization, most people will act to preserve the interests of the group – even at the expense of committing injustices against outsiders. They will naturally give the benefit of the doubt to their colleagues, and they will also share loyalty with those risking their lives for the same purposes. To have any credibility, investigations into such organizations must be conducted by outsiders with independence and a strong mandate to investigate and expose wrongdoing.