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?

Security vs. Privacy

As usual, Bruce Schneier puts it more eloquently than I can:

…it’s precisely why, when people in their business are in charge of government, it becomes a police state. If privacy and security really were a zero-sum game, we would have seen mass immigration into the former East Germany and modern-day China. While it’s true that police states like those have less street crime, no one argues that their citizens are fundamentally more secure.

That is spot on. And it’s something that I’ve been trying to get more people to understand. In this post-9/11 world, everyone is telling us to be afraid of this, that, and the other thing, and we are then being told that in order to make ourselves “safe” we need to let people into our homes, our businesses, and our private lives, and that it’s OK, they’re trustworthy, just trust us on this one, folks, we won’t screw anything up for you. Just be good little sheep and get in line.

And by and large, we’ve been good little sheep, and we’ve gotten in line. And believe it or not, we’re headed for the slaughter.

But it’s not even a this vs. that debate here – being secure doesn’t mean we have to let government into our homes and personal lives. Once again, let me quote Bruce:

The debate isn’t security versus privacy. It’s liberty versus control.

You can see it in comments by government officials: “Privacy no longer can mean anonymity,” says Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence. “Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people’s private communications and financial information.” Did you catch that? You’re expected to give up control of your privacy to others, who — presumably — get to decide how much of it you deserve. That’s what loss of liberty looks like.

What we really aught to be scared of is not each other, or vague “terrorist threats,” but instead this creeping encroachment into our personal liberties. If anything, that should be what keeps us awake at night.

It’s what keeps me awake at night, anyway.

“Stranger Safety” and “Public Solitude”

Today I saw an ad for a video called “Stranger Safety.” It’s supposed to teach your children how to be safe around strangers.

Thinking about it afterward, I realized that there is this mentality – driven into our collective mindset over many years – that ALL strangers are not to be trusted; that ALL strangers are bad and will hurt us. And I’m not sure it’s a good mentality to have.

It certainly explains the current trend of “public solitude” that I see in increasing amounts in our society today. I used to think that maybe it was just there were too many people these days – cities and towns were too crowded, and you just couldn’t know everyone, so you kept to yourself. But I think it goes beyond that – we’ve been indoctrinated with the belief that if we don’t know someone, they are bad.

This has some wide-ranging implications, and I don’t just mean keeping to yourself on the subway or something like that. When we are taught to not trust strangers, the implication is that we must implicitly trust people we know. This fragments our society – suddenly, the people we know are “right” and everyone else is “wrong.” Instead of being one big group of people, united as a culture, a nation, or whatever, we become segmented into cliques – and our opposition to those we see as “wrong” becomes more and more violent. Just look at the fighting between our two dominant political parties – the Democrats and the Republicans. Despite all that, they really are quite alike – more alike than they are different, anyway. So why do they fight?

Because the opposition is always made up of “strangers.” And strangers are “bad.” And in an atmosphere of fear (such as the one we currently live in), it’s easy to get riled up and defensive of one’s own “group.”

Don’t believe me? Go watch some political coverage. Watch both sides. Read some stuff on the Internet or in your paper from people who disagree with you, and see if the rhetoric isn’t tinged with a certain “get off my lawn” madness.

The point is, not all strangers are bad – and in a good society, the odds are that most strangers will in fact be quite good and helpful. Even given the bad things that one bad egg could do to you as a stranger, the odds are still very, very low that it will happen to you – and the potential trade-offs in terms of enrichment of your life, or even just feeling better about things, and feeling accepted by your community – could make it worth the risk.

So think about it. And the next time you pass a stranger, resist the impulse to keep your head down and avoid eye contact and instead say “hi!” Chances are, nothing bad will happen to you. And once that kind of thinking beings to spread, I think we’ll all be a lot happier.

Our Paranoid Society

This is what happens when everyone is afraid of everyone else:

His mission was to photograph each of the nation’s 50 state capitol buildings and dispatch a postcard from each city, using postage stamps from a childhood collection. Each postcard would be mailed to the next state on his journey, where he would pick it up, continuing until he had gone full circle back to Indiana.

But there was a problem. On a flight from Sacramento, Calif., to Honolulu, Mr. Fazel described his project to a fellow passenger. He later discovered that she had reported him as suspicious — perhaps to the pilot or the Transportation Security Administration — and taken a picture of him as he slept.

How paranoid must we be for a passenger on an airplane to go to the trouble of taking a picture of someone while they sleep so as to make it easier to report him to the authorities?! Would you do this? Could you ever see yourself doing this? I know I couldn’t.

Once we start reporting one another for “suspicious activity,” we’re doomed. Neighbors who don’t get along will be reporting each other for fictions and imagined crimes, and the system will be abused for personal gain. After all, if you can just call a number and say “so-and-so acted weird, I suspect he’s a terrorist” and have that person arrested - I mean, c’mon people! We’re one step away from a loud knock in the middle of the night and lots of scary looking men in black jackets land here!

And if I hear one person say “we need to be like this, people are out to kill us, it’s a strange new world after 9/11,” I will say BULL. There is a fine line between healthy suspicion and rampant paranoia, and I am telling you – this is the latter, not the former.

Now that this gentleman has been (wrongly) accused, how does he clear his good name? How does he get himself off the “extra screening” list? How can he stop the harassment? He was not charged of anything, he turned out to be completely harmless. So where is his recourse?

Unlike being arrested for a “normal” crime, he has no recourse. There is no court that can seal his records (or remove them completely). He has no one to appeal to. The system is secret and allows for no questioning of its inner workings. It is a system designed to quash any opposition. If you don’t like it, be careful about saying so – you’ll end up on the list and endlessly harassed every time you exercise your right to travel. The system is designed to “bully” people into submission. You dare not speak up for fear of the inconvenience it’ll cause you.

Which, coincidentally, brings to mind the story of a bunch of people who got fed up with the same sort of thing – a system designed to “bully” them into submission. Every time they complained, the system just squeezed them harder, hoping that they’d just roll over and accept domination.

Fortunately for us, those people didn’t roll over. They were the founding fathers of the United States of America, and they stood up to this sort of harassment, bullying, and removal of their inalienable rights.

We could all do well to learn – or re-learn – from their example in these troubling times.