Sep. 22nd, 2007

lurkitty: (Pogo)
Let's face it. Star Simpson's choice of attire would probably have caused a stir at Logan Airport before 9/11.

Whether police would have shown up immediately with machine guns, or the story would have made national news on a level other than "Odd Story of the Day" remains another question. Instead, it earns the zeitgeist quote of the day, "This is total disregard for the situation; this is an airport, post-9/11." That was what Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Wayne Margolis told an East Boston District Court yesterday during Simpson's arraignment.

Simpson was charged with "possessing a hoax device". In the accounts I've read, Simpson hasn't really claimed the device was a bomb, just an art piece. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

There is an overriding assumption nowadays that because we are living in a "post 9/11world" we must change our behavior, our language and even our thought accordingly. We must accept that there are things we simply cannot do.

I recall a time (pre-9/11) when my ex-husband. a computer scientist working on a research vessel, was bringing home several non-working satellite tag devices used on whales, as well as video equipment that had been broken or inundated with seawater. The tags were 6cm diameter, 20 cm long aluminum cylinders with epoxy-potted electronics inside that could not be inspected and a metal cable antennae - in short, they looked like pipe bombs. He had eight or nine of them, along with the non- working electronics in a duffle bag. T had been on a boat for 4 weeks and had not shaven (he hated getting near sharp objects on a moving boat). He was taking all of this through Customs into the US.

They searched his clothes bag and didn't even open the electronics duffle.

Would he have been able to set foot in an airport with that bag today? How could his group have been able to transport the tags back for repairs had he not been able to carry them from Nova Scotia himself?

Even more disturbing is the revelation of the depth of detailed information our government is collecting on travelers. When several activists requested copies of official records of their travels, they were astonished find out that details of personal items such as reading materials, names of traveling companions and phone numbers of family members were kept on file by the government. In one case, the records contained the fact that a man was carrying a book on marijuana and several flashlights with marijuana leaves.

These were not people who had violated any laws, but civil rights activists, and in one case, simply a frequent corporate flyer. There is no way to get information removed from the system, and no way to correct erroneous information.

According to the Washington Post article: Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger's name, remained in the system. "The Automated Targeting System," Hasbrouck alleged, "is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans' personal activities that the government has ever created."

He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. "It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous," he said. "If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship."

Why do we accept this invasion of privacy? Does it not smack of guilt until proven innocent? Is the underlying assumption that if a person is reading a book on marijuana laws, they must be smuggling marijuana? Does simply boarding a plane serve as probable cause for searching every single person for illicit substances, explosives and anti-government materials?

Should passengers arriving and departing an airport terminal live in fear of uttering any words that might possibly offend an official doing a search?

We have open our luggage, taken off our shoes, and stripped off our clothes. Our personal lives are being violated. It is time to say enough is enough. We are not a nation of criminals and we know it. We have the right to move within our country unfettered, and we have the right to move outside of it without the threat of unlawful search and seizure. This is not making us safer. It is making us sheep.


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