Fear will destroy us

The Washington Post today printed an article about the ability of the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to seize and hold for off-site inspection any electronic storage device and/or written documents for an unspecified time without any reason of suspicion or wrongdoing.

This means iPods, laptops, cell phones, hard drives, USB flash drives, beepers/pagers, CDs/DVDs, video and audio tapes, written documents, books, papers, pamphlets and other written materials commonly referred to as “pocket trash” or “pocket litter”.


“They’re saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler’s laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Notably, he said, the policies “don’t establish any criteria for whose computer can be searched.”

Customs Deputy Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern said the efforts “do not infringe on Americans’ privacy.” In a statement submitted to Feingold for a June hearing on the issue, he noted that the executive branch has long had “plenary authority to conduct routine searches and seizures at the border without probable cause or a warrant” to prevent drugs and other contraband from entering the country.

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When do we get to the point where we hear the words “Papers, please” whenever we cross a state border, enter a neighboring town or city, board a bus, train, get into a taxi, or are just walking down the street? When do we start seeing public service announcements on television exhorting us to keep an eye on our neighbor and report suspicious activities? When do we start hearing “Patriotic” radio announcements?

To what extent are we going to allow our government to rule by fear, to convince us that we’re under constant threat and need to allow the government to keep their grubby hands in our business?

I’m not an extremist nor do I think the world is a happy place. I agree that reasonable measures need to be taken to protect innocent people from whack jobs anywhere, American or otherwise. But, come on. If you piss off a TSA or DHS guard at airport security they could make your life miserable in an instant for no other reason than a made-up “suspicion”. Granted, airport security has had this ability for years. But, it seems that the administration has been encouraging a more aggressive use of this discretionary power and there is no recourse for the innocent citizen if that power is abused. There should be checks. There should be criteria for reasonable suspicion.

Senator Russell Feinghold is planning to introduce legislation to require reasonable suspicion and prohibit profiling based on race, religion or national origin.

When a government encourages its citizens to react based on fear, its motives come into question. The U.S. government used fear to promote nationalism in WWII, but the threat was obvious. And, look what happened…..internment camps for Japanese Americans. Based on fear. We round up individuals and groups today, ship them off to an island prison away from prying eyes, hold them without recourse or reason for however long the government wants. Some may think it’s necessary until it’s them or a family member or friend that gets snatched up.

The threat is not so obvious today, either because the threat (as drilled into us by the current administration) is not as imminent as described, or because it is truly hidden (covert). Our government doesn’t inform us about the threats, the thwarted attempts or other progress, only that we’re under attack from all sides and we have to build a wall around our country and ourselves for protection. We have to give up our freedoms (little by little) so we can be safe, so we can be more dependent upon the government to tell us what’s good and what’s bad (or else).

I’m not sure who I should be more wary of anymore, terrorists or my own government. The line is beginning to blur.

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