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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.