What Is a Government “Sweep”

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Photo of President Obama flying around on his broom

There has been a lot of discussion about the “sweeps” being conducted by the government’s PRISM program, but “sweeping” government surveillance is an abstract for most people.

To give you an idea of what a “sweep” can do in one isolated case, consider one young man I know. He works hard in retail and hoped to come up with an idea for a business. A relative told him to sell plastic containers on the Internet. The relative was doing it and making good money at it.

The young man went ahead and started an Internet company selling different sized plastic bottles.

One day, SWAT was at his door and, without a word of explanation, cuffed him and took him off to prison. He even had to do a perp walk with a host of drug dealers and innocent people caught up in a “sweep.” He had to be bailed out.

It seems that one of the plastic bottles he sold was on a table in a meth lab. His names, address and contact information were affixed to the bottle label. Even the government should have been able to figure out that drug dealers don’t usually put their labels on items.

Instead of interviewing him and looking at who he was – a man never arrested for anything – they decided to take the lazy way out. You see, “sweeps” allow law enforcement to arrest anyone with even a remote connection or perceived connection to the crime.

It goes beyond just an arrest however. The DA wouldn’t even speak with him. He was never actually charged but it hung over his head. He was banned from conducting business and he was publicly humiliated. He now had an arrest record.

He hired lawyers who bankrupted him. The DA wouldn’t speak to his lawyers either.

A year later, the ADA (Assistant District Attorney) said that of course they weren’t going to charge him but they would not erase his arrest record.

That’s what a “sweep” can do in a case that is of small magnitude.

When the government talks about “sweeps,” it is important to know that they can be dangerous.

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