Friday, November 30, 2007

Guard, gate, guard, gate

Last week, I went to the US Embassy in Amsterdam to add more pages to my passport: the accumulation of visa stamps has overwhelmed the original pages, and Dutch customs authorities were threatening to turn me away if they couldn't find a place to stamp. I stood in the cold rain and step-stopped through security: An intercom, a gate, a search by a guard, a line inside a sturdy cage, another gate admitting only one, an antechamber with an interview, confiscation of my electronics, another gate. A similar process, only slightly faster, to leave.

In an era when Europe is removing barriers, the US seems to be obsessed with adding them. As I travel, I've seen increased suspicion of everyone at the American borders. Checked bags are routinely opened, carry-on's disassembled, clothes removed. Coming through DIA last week, I was sensed inside a sealed air chamber, shoes on, entering, then off, exiting, on top of the usual procedures. There seems no end to it: TSA is now proposing new rules requiring more information and 72 hours to process it before flying into the country (The Register).

I do speak out, but know that there is increased scrutiny of phone calls, emails, blog postings, and travel records. Financial databases are being connected and mined; phone records are saved and searched (EFF). I can't wire money easily, invest in stocks here at all, because of new money laundering regulations. My corporate security already follows me though a GPS chip in my phone; public Internet sites reveal my entire history of addresses and associations (Intelius): the government certainly can do more with the information and tools that it already has.

Participatory democracy requires civil liberty and personal privacy. That is inconsistent with being searched, monitored, and investigated. The US government justifies its expanded surveillance, suspicion, and data mining by the threat made manifest on 9/11. But the European community, faced with far more active threats, still remains committed to open borders, open flows of information, and community-based surveillance with greater oversight. There is an inclusive spread of democracy and rule of law through economic and political incentive rather than military intervention.

I do worry about this issue, and write my representatives about the erosion of civil liberties and privacy. I am concerned by news of federal Attorneys General who refuse to renounce the use of torture, of a witless executive who defends renditions, and of attacks on the press as unpatriotic simply for telling the disagreeable truth.

Civil liberties that are surrendered to the government cannot be regained. It is vital to speak out against this erosion: I support the EFF and others in this stand.

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