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Fear of Flying -- from HotWired
12 September 96
HotWired, The Netizen
Fear of Flying
by Declan McCullagh ([email protected])
Washington, DC, 11 September
John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
knows firsthand how drastically airports in the United States are
altering their policies in response to the nation's perceived
vulnerability to terrorists.
When Gilmore opened his laptop for inspection by airport personnel at
San Francisco International last month - as requested - but refused to
turn the machine on, the cops were called. When he then refused to
show identification to airport police, "they put the handcuffs on me
and hauled me off," he told The Netizen.
The cops took Gilmore to a back-room office. "They tried to ask me
questions. I said I wanted to speak to my lawyer. They kept asking me
questions anyway," he says. Airport police arrested Gilmore even
though, according to the FAA, "there is currently no prohibition
against allowing someone on an aircraft" without identification.
Gilmore's arrest came after President Clinton tightened airport
security in response to the TWA Flight 800 disaster and the Atlanta
Olympic Games bombing. Now the anti-terrorism drumbeat in the nation's
capital is starting again, and it's louder and more ominous than ever.
It reached a fevered pitch Monday, when Clinton called for an increase
of more than one billion dollars to be spent on anti-terrorism
measures, especially airport security.
Clinton based his request on the unsurprising recommendations of a
commission created by executive order in August, staffed by spooks and
headed by Vice President Gore. The group's proposal includes a plan
allowing the CIA and FBI to "develop a system" to screen passengers
who fit certain profiles as potential terrorists.
David Sobel, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center,
called the White House proposal "a realization of Big Brother concerns
people have about computer technology." The proposal would allow the
FBI and CIA to couple their databases with those of the airlines.
"There are going to be massive databases that will track our actions
and activities. If you think of increased capabilities to collect
information, it's even scarier," Sobel said.
A former US senator agrees. At a Cato Institute terrorism conference
yesterday, Malcolm Wallop said: "In the year and a half since the
terrorism debate began, all the legislation considered would do little
or nothing to stop or deter terrorism. These measures do more to crack
down on Americans than terrorists.
"A bloody nose does not warrant an exponential expansion of federal
government authority," argued Wallop, now the chairman of the
Frontiers of Freedom Institute.
Over lunch at the conference yesterday afternoon, former CIA director
James Woolsey responded with some seemingly gratuitous anti-Net
rhetoric. Terrorists may use biological weapons like anthrax, he said.
"Anthrax is colorless, odorless, and has a 90 percent lethality. One
gram has 100 million lethal doses." Then Woolsey delivered the zinger:
"The knowledge of how to make anthrax is widely available, including
on the Internet."
Not content to let bad enough alone, Woolsey added that the government
can't allow netizens to use data-scrambling software like Pretty Good
Privacy that the spooks can't break. He said the threat of terrorism
will "require us to have a key escrow system" where keys "for complex
algorithms [will] be placed in such a way that the government" will
have access to them.
"You can accommodate industry a lot, but the principle is: you got to
get to the key," Woolsey said. (FBI director Louis Freeh made similar,
though less straightforward, comments during Senate hearings in July.)
Before Congress adjourns for the fall recess, the House must decide
whether to approve a "digital telephony" domestic wiretapping slush
fund into which the NSA and CIA can pour cash. Senators will then
likely add provisions for warrantless wiretaps to the anti-terrorism
bill that the House sent to them in August.
The fundamental problem here is, of course, the politics of terrorism.
Legislators routinely grandstand atop national tragedies, using
victims and their families as backdrops. Justice Department lobbyists
then swarm onto Capitol Hill and demand reduced civil liberties in the
name of fighting terrorism.
Societies can, and should, safeguard against systematic threats.
Random acts of violence, on the other hand, are trickier to forestall
- and terrorist acts are anything but predictable.
Luckily for the EFF's Gilmore, he was cited only for the crime of
"delaying/obstructing a peace officer" and was released after being
handcuffed to a bench and then dumped in a holding cell for a few
hours. He got off easy.
But if Congress decides to sacrifice freedom for security, the country
will ultimately enjoy neither.