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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. 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").
The term "police state" was first used in 1851, in reference to the use of a national police force to maintain order, in Austria. 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.
Genuine police states are fundamentally authoritarian, and are often dictatorships. However the degree of government repression varies widely among societies.
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.
The Soviet Union and its many satellite states, including East Germany and those that were part of the Soviet bloc, had extensive and repressive police and intelligence services (such as the KGB) with, e.g. approximately 2.5% of the East German adult population serving as informants for the Stasi.
Nazi Germany, a dictatorship, was, at least initially, brought into being through a nominal democracy, yet gradually exerted more and more repressive controls over its people in the lead-up to World War II. Nazi Germany was indeed a police state, using the SS and the Gestapo to assert control over the population from the 1930s until the end of the war.
During the period of Aparthied, the South African government maintained police state attributes such as banning people and organizations, arresting political prisoners, and maintaining segregated living communities and restricting movement and access.
Augusto Pinochet's Chile was a police state exhibiting "repression of public liberties, the elimination of political exchange, limiting freedom of speech, abolishing the right to strike, freezing wages."
The Republic of Cuba, under president, and ,later, nationalist dictator, Fulgencio Batista, was a dictatorial police state until his overthrow at the end of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the rise to power of Fidel Castro and his communist regime. 
The region of North Korea has long had elements of a police state, from the Juche -style Silla kingdom, to the imposition of a fascist police state by the Japanese, to the police state imposed and maintained by the Kim family. In 2006, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked North Korea last out of 168 countries in a test of press freedom, stating that Kim Jong Il controlled all of the media.
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".