Trust No One

In the post 9/11 America, you are presumed guilty until… well, you’re pretty much always presumed guilty.

There have been a lot of changes since 9/11 – but what’s surprising is that all of these changes were made by us, and not by terrorists. As a society, we’ve devolved to an absurdly unhealthy level of paranoia, where anyone and everyone is out to get us. Everyone is a suspect, a “potential terrorist,” and no one (well, very, very, very few people) are ever fully “proven” innocent and trusted completely.

This video gives a good overview of what I’m talking about.

Suspect America from CIR on Vimeo.

If you don’t believe me, grab a DSLR camera and go take some photos of trains (if you like trains), or maybe a big, beautiful bridge near you, or something else like that, and see how far you get.

It’s sad to think that we’ve done this entirely to ourselves – all because of our irrational fear.

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the events of 9/11, I really do think it’s time to put the brakes on this sort of thing, to scale it way back, and remember that we don’t need to always be afraid, and that even if people are out to “get us,” they’re not the bogey men, and they aren’t going to pop out of our closets at night and blow up every bridge, airport, [insert movie-plot infrastructure target here] in the country all at once… and that it follows from this that we don’t need to have security guards checking the IDs of every hipster photographer or tourist who takes a picture from off the beaten path, or anyone who aims a camera lens at an airport, and so on and so forth.

It takes willpower though to do all this – and I’m afraid all our national willpower has been sucked up by other things (wars, failing economies, etc.).

Many years from now, this time period may be looked back upon as the self-inflicted Great Failure of American society… but maybe, just maybe, we can change things.

We’ll see.

Citizen Surveillance

Thoughtful comments on the idea of citizens keeping tabs on their police & government, instead of only the other way around.

Found this great quote over at Slashdot today:

“The whole point of our post-Enlightenment traditions in the West has been the understanding that Authority, if left unchecked, will naturally tend towards abuse. The Police, in all their forms throughout the ages, have always been the most visible aspect of abusive Authority. The ability of the citizen to make his fellow citizens aware of abuses by Authority is key to the preservation of liberal democratic values. If you give the Authorities any sort of free pass on this, you simply invite them to do their worst. If you catch them doing their worst (ie. we just had the fortieth anniversary of the Kent State Shootings), then there is some capacity to assure some degree of justice, and more importantly for the Authorities to moderate their own behaviors.”

This comment was posted in response to a story about how police were fighting to keep from being recorded by ordinary citizens.

I’ve posted about this before, and apparently this sort of thing even has a name: “Sousveillance.” The idea that if your government has the right to monitor you, then you also should have the right to monitor your government.

This sort of stuff seems like it would be self-evident – I mean, how could you argue against this? But apparently it’s not, and apparently people do argue against it – in many cases successfully.

It surprises me that, generally speaking, most people would not deny the wisdom of the statement “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Yet when put in a position of power, a person who just agreed to that statement would most likely add, “except for me.”

It seems to me that the very definition of corruption is when those in power carve exceptions in the Rule of Law which apply only to themselves.

Vigilance – that is the price we must continually pay. “Who watches the watchers,” and so on.

And, of course: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Your Papers, Please (Part 2)

Via Bruce Schneier’s blog – the TSA has a new photo ID requirement:

Beginning Saturday, June 21, 2008 passengers that willfully refuse to provide identification at security checkpoint will be denied access to the secure area of airports. This change will apply exclusively to individuals that simply refuse to provide any identification or assist transportation security officers in ascertaining their identity.

This new procedure will not affect passengers that may have misplaced, lost or otherwise do not have ID but are cooperative with officers. Cooperative passengers without ID may be subjected to additional screening protocols, including enhanced physical screening, enhanced carry-on and/or checked baggage screening, interviews with behavior detection or law enforcement officers and other measures.

You used to be able to travel without showing ID – your “papers” – it was a hassle, but you could do it. Now you can forget about it – ID is required. Unless you say you forgot it, in which case you’re OK. Because someone trying to hijack a plane or blow one up would never lie about not having ID…

Repeat after me: Identification does not equal security. Say it again: Identification does NOT equal security.

We’ll keep this up until someone gets the hint. In the meantime, get out your papers, comrade… or else!

UPDATE: In case you forgot about it, here’s part one of “Papers, Please,” and a really good quote from the Slashdot article that started me on this rant:

“I remember in the 80s we used to make jokes about Soviet citizens being asked “show me your papers” and needing internal passports to travel in their own country. Now we need internal passports to travel in our country. How did this happen? The requirement to show ID for flying on commercial passenger flights started in 1996, in response to the crash of TWA Flight 800. This crash was very likely caused by a mechanical failure. How showing ID to board a plane prevents mechanical failures is left as an exercise to the reader. How mandatory ID even prevents terrorist attacks is also not clear to me; all the 9/11 hijackers had valid government-issued ID. I hope the courts don’t wimp out on this fight.”

It seems like maybe the courts have wimped out on this fight, which is not only sad, but terribly distressing.

Effects of REAL ID

C|NET News has a great writeup on what the effects of REAL ID are going to be to people in different states – depending on whether your state has complied or not.

There are some SERIOUS problems here of course – for example, you may not be able to go visit your representative in Washington DC if you don’t have a REAL ID – which is a clear violation of your right to petition your government.

And of course, today the news broke that the Department of Homeland Security is suggesting that REAL ID might be required to buy medicines that contain pseudophedrine. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with the original goal of REAL ID – it’s clear feature creep and the start of that slippery slope thing… that we were promised wouldn’t happen this time (really!).

As usual, the law – as it was originally passed – was supposed to be used to “stop terrorists.” Now it’s expanded to include immigration control, drug restrictions, and a “big stick” to beat down rebellious states – within our own country! States that have the guts to stand up and say “this is wrong, we won’t do it” are being beaten down with the power given to the DHS by the REAL ID Act.

Once again, we have taken another step towards becoming a police state. May I see your papers, please?