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A police state is a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the population. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.
The inhabitants of a police state experience restrictions on their mobility, and on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force which operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state.1
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase "police State" back to 1851. The German term Polizeistaat came into English usage in the 1930s with reference to totalitarian governments that had begun to emerge in Europe.2
Genuine police states are fundamentally authoritarian, and are often dictatorships. However the degree of government repression varies widely among societies. Most regimes fall into some middle ground between the extremes of civil libertarianism and totalitarianism.
In times of national emergency or war, the balance which may usually exist between freedom and national security often tips in favour of security. This shift may lead to allegations that the nation in question has become, or is becoming, a police state.
Because there are different political perspectives as to what an appropriate balance is between individual freedom and national security, there are no definitive objective standards to determine whether the term "police state" applies to a particular nation at any given point in time. Thus, it is difficult to evaluate objectively the truth of allegations that a nation is, or is not becoming, a police state. One way to view the concept of the police state and the free state is through the medium of a balance or scale, where any law focused on removing liberty is seen as moving towards a police state, and any law which limits government oversight is seen as moving towards a free state.3
There are many freedom indices which attempt to rate countries according to the amount of freedom they allow their citizens.678 States which fall at the bottom of these rankings have been described as countries "where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied."9
The Soviet Union and its many satellite states, including North Korea and East Germany, were notorious for their extensive and repressive police and intelligence services with, e.g. approximately 2.5% of the East German adult population serving (knowingly or unknowingly) as informants for the Stasi.
Nazi Germany, a dictatorship, was, at least initially, brought into being through a nominal democracy, yet exerted repressive controls over its people. Nazi Germany was indeed a police state; using the SS/SA to assert control over the population in the 1930s.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked North Korea second last out of 168 countries in a test of press freedom.10 It has been reported that the only TV channel in North Korea predominately eulogises the country's past leaders Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung. As a result, some locals in Pyongyang have been quoted as stating that their leaders are gods.11
Under the political model of enlightened absolutism, the ruler is the "highest servant of the state" and exercises absolute power to provide for the general welfare of the population. This model of government proposes that all the power of the state must be directed toward this end, and rejects codified, statutory constraints upon the ruler's absolute power. Thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes supported this type of absolutist government.citation needed
As the enlightened, absolute ruler is said to be charged with the public good, and implicitly infallible by right of appointment, even critical, loyal opposition to the ruler's party is a crime against the state. The concept of loyal opposition is incompatible with these politics. As public dissent is forbidden, it inevitably becomes secret, which, in turn, is countered with political repression via a secret police.
Liberal democracy, which emphasizes the rule of law, focuses on the police state's not being subject to law. Robert von Mohl, who first introduced the rule of law to German jurisprudence, contrasted the Rechtsstaat ("legal" or "constitutional" state) with the aristocratic Polizeistaat ("police state").13
Fictional police states have been featured in a number of media ranging from novels to films to video games. George Orwell's 1984 has been described as "the definitive fictional treatment of a police state, which has also influenced contemporary usage of the term".14
- Amnesty international, 2005 — annual report on human rights violations.
- Council for Secular Humanism article describing attributes of police states
- David Mery, September 22, 2005; The Guardian — example of "police state" defined in a modern context.
- Police State USA — a continuously updated multi-contributor site with news articles on how, in their opinion, the U.S. is gradually turning into a repressive police state.
- The Rutherford Institute — a non-profit civil liberties organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Founder and president John W. Whitehead believes that the U.S. is an "emerging" police state.15
- A Dictionary of World History, Market House Books, Oxford University Press, 2000.
- The New Police Science: The Police Power in Domestic and International edited by Markus Dubber, Mariana Valverde
- Police State (Key Concepts in Political Science), Brian Chapman, Macmillan, 1971.
- "Police Checkpoints on the Information Highway", Computer underground Digest, Volume 6 : Issue 72 (14 August 1994), ISSN 1004-042X, "The so-called 'electronic frontier' is quickly turning into an electronic police state."
- The Electronic Police State: 2008 National Rankings, by Jonathan Logan, Cryptohippie USA.
- Michael Kirk (December 10, 2010). "Annual International Human Rights Ratings Announced". University of Connecticut.
- "Checklist Questions and Guidelines". Freedom House. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
- "An Index of Freedom in the World". Fraser Institute. 2012. p. 4.
- "Freedom in the World 2013". Freedom House. 2013. p. 4.
- "North Korea Rated World's Worst Violator of Press Freedom". America.gov. 2006-10-25. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
- "Life in the secret state". BBC News. 2001-09-01. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
- Oxford English Dictionary, Third edition, January 2009; online version November 2010. <http://www.oed.com:80/Entry/146832>; accessed 19 January 2011.
- The Police State, Chapman, B., Government and Opposition, Vol.3:4, 428–440, (2007). Accessible online at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119912141/abstract, retrieved 15 August 2008.
- The Encyclopedia of Police Science  Volume 1 edited by Jack R. Greene
- The Rutherford Institute John W. Whitehead to Speak to Senior Statesmen of Virginia on the Emerging American Police State and What 2014 Holds in Store for Our Freedoms