State Bandits

13:07 Tue 03 Nov 2009
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No, not tax collectors. At least, in democracies, there’s a notion that collected taxes are disbursed according to the wishes of some significant portion of the populace. Here, I’m talking about the trend of the last few decades for police departments (and other law enforcement agencies) to confiscate property (and cash)—and then use it to fund themselves. Financial Cryptography discusses this issue, outlining its history in measure meant to crack down on money laundering. The Economist also has an article on the issue, and this line should make clear how dubious the whole thing is:

The 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act expanded these powers greatly, allowing courts to seize more or less anything owned by a convict deemed to have a “criminal lifestyle”, and introducing a power of civil recovery, whereby assets may be confiscated through the civil courts even if their owner has not been convicted of a crime.

Shortly after I read those articles, I came across this article on police emptying safety deposit boxes—more or less willy-nilly, the bottom line being that they can grab your stuff and then you have to prove that it’s legitimately yours in order to get it back.

This kind of thing happens all the time in the US as well, although it’s more connected with the “War on Drugs” here than merely with money laundering, and has at times included police simply walking up to people on the street and taking their cash, alleging that said cash is “drug money”.

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