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Unreasonable Search
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Unreasonable Search

Edward Snowden is not hiding in the basement.

To: Rebecca Malmquist
City Assessor
Minnetonka

Dear Ms. Malmquist:

You recently sent me a letter informing me that I could choose one of several dates for an Assessing Intern to conduct an interior and exterior examination of my residence. At first this struck me as a possible joke; government agents demanding entrance into people’s houses generally do so with a warrant. William Pitt, the First Earl of Chatham and an early supporter of American independence, once observed that “the poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown; it may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it . . . but the King of England cannot enter.” He apparently was not talking about Minnetonka.

Perhaps this program of having peoples’ residences internally examined is part of an expanded National Security Agency (NSA) counterterrorism program. After all, thanks to leaks by Edward Snowden, we now know that the NSA is keeping a huge database of domestic communication “metadata” that includes logs of all phone calls Americans have dialed or received. It has also been widely reported that this NSA surveillance program extends to virtually all international communications and an as-yet undetermined number of foreign government embassies and governmental meetings. So complete has been the internal spying that the Obama administration’s defense of this program was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Perhaps the billions of individual data points collected on American citizens is now to be augmented by actual physical inspections by Assessing Interns.

Governmental entities intent on spying on their taxpayers generally cite legal authority. The current administration claims that the NSA surveillance program is fully supported by an extensive legal memorandum, which is, of course, secret. Further, it has been asserted that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court) examines each request by the federal government for electronic surveillance. The New York Times reported that in 2012 the government made 1,789 requests to conduct electronic surveillance, and the court approved 1,788 (the other request was withdrawn by the government). These rulings are not only secret, but the few public officials with knowledge of the surveillance court’s work are required to censor themselves. Nor apparently are the “arguments” before this court subject to adversarial response.

By the same token, Minnetonka cites legal authority (Minnesota Statute 273.08) to enter or demand entrance into people’s residences. The cited law grants no such power, nor could it be consonant with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article 1, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution.

The right of taxpayers to resist unwarranted entrance by government agents into their residence is inviolate. However, in the case of Minnetonka, there is already ample information with which to make their property tax assessment: building permits, building plans approved at the time of house construction, and comparable sales in the area. It is usually true that building inspectors are frequently inside houses as they are being built. Those schematics and inspectors’ reports are available to tax assessors. Therefore, there are more accurate and less intrusive ways to gain information essential for tax assessment purposes.

Transparency issues apply to the enormous surveillance program to which we all apparently, and without consent, have been subjected. Surveillance court opinions can be made public; the Justice Department legal memo justification for the NSA program can be made public. As a citizen, my right to be secure in my house against unreasonable search and seizure shall not be violated by any level of government, including the City of Minnetonka.

Oh, and by the way, Edward Snowden is not hiding in my basement—but you’ll have to take my word for that.

Vance K. Opperman
Citizen and Taxpayer

Vance K. Opperman (vopperman@keyinvestment.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.

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