17 July 2006


Via Monkeyboy's Linkblog, Edward Hasbrouk tells yet another scary tale of anxious folks with guns and badges at the airport.
When anyone who ask questions is suspected of being a terrorist, and subject to detention, interrogation, and search, we've got a problem.
He carefully and astutely lays plain the privacy and civil rights implications in each little step in the process. The crux is the Airserv folks who check your ID before you get to the TSA checkpoint.
... the TSA has crafted its procedures so that the demand for identification credentials is made neither by the TSA itself nor the airline, but by a third party whose identity and authority are entirely unverifiable to the traveller, and who is accountable to the traveller neither through government legislative and regulatory procedures nor through enforcement of contractual rights (since they have no contractual relationship to the traveller).

To give an added frisson of resemblance to countries with corrupt or dysfunctional police and governments, the people in uniform demanding people's credentials are lying about being government employees. The real government employees watching them don't care. And if, like me, you so much as ask a few polite questions about what is going on, you are detained, threatened with arrest, searched, investigated, your papers copied by the government for your permanent (I can only presume) dossier, and the unaccountable third party (and, in the case of an RFID passport, anyone else within range with a reader in their luggage) left with the unregulated legal “right” to use and sell any data obtained from its government-coerced scrutiny of your credentials.

Hasbrouk's implicit message is in part that airport security proceedures are poorly thought through, in ways with disturbing implications. I'd add that this is in large part a result of a a weird place we've reached in left-right politics in America.

Liberals believe that activist government is an appropriate tool for addressing a range of problems. Thus a lot of liberal time and attention is devoted to the question of what policies will actually work, without creating unwanted secondary consequences. So there's lots of liberals hanging around asking questions like, “if we have the federal government fund health care for million of Americans, how do we do it in a way that neither permits costs to spiral out of control nor compromises the quality of care that people receive?” Policy wonkery.

Conservatives believe that government is inherently inept and screws things up, so activist government is a bad idea. So they don't do a lot of policy wonkery, because they see it as a doomed project. So they're not very good at thinking through the consequences of policies; in fact, they're often not terribly aware of this being a kind of question you might consider stopping to think about. So in a weird paradox, though conservatives are more worried about the unhappy consequences of government meddling, they're less well equipped to prevent it when they agree that some government meddling is called for.

And you may have noticed, conservatives are running things now.

1 comment:

Edward Hasbrouck said...

I've gotten a response from the TSA, but it avoids some of the most significant issues, and raises at least as many new questions as it answers. See my follow-up articles, Privacy advice to the Department of Homeland Security and Dialogue with the TSA Privacy Officer.