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RT America appearance: Your license plate is being tracked

I appeared today on RT America based on the following post at Reason’s Hit & Run Blog:

DEA Wants to Track Your License Plate, and You May Already Be Tagged!
I distinctly remember, when I was a kid, watching an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, during which Marlin Perkins lounged safely in a camp chair, while Jim Fowler put a lion in a headlock, bit a hole in the cat’s ear, and then attached a tag for easy tracking. Well, it went something like that, anyway. It’s been a long time. Too bad Fowler didn’t work for the DEA, or even a biggish police department. He could have saved himself a little sweat and blood by tracking Americans instead of animals, by the simple expedient of setting cameras by the side of the road to capture license plates as they speed by. …

The super-sneaky trick that defeats TSA’s nude scanners

Believe it or not, the secret to bypassing the new airport “security” scanners is to  … wait for it! … hang contraband off your side. That’s because, says blogger/engineer Jonathan Corbett, the scanners display the human body as light, ghost images against a black background, and they display metallic objects as black. So if something metallic is hanging off your side, it literally disappears into the background. He tested his theory at two airports and went through the TSA checkpoint without a hitch each time.

Britain’s Daily Mail points out that Corbett’s revelation about the scanners’ little flaw “comes just weeks after Europe banned the ‘airport strip-searches’ over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.”

Why I want to paint a huge, raised middle finger on my roof

From Digital Journal, a report on the federal government’s plan to put eyes in the sky. Thirty thousand of them, that is.

A bill passed last week allocating more than $63 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration would increase the existence of drones in civilian airspace across America and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. …

If the new bill becomes law, up to 30,000 drones could by flying in U.S. airspace by decade’s end. The Senate passed the bill by a 75-20 margin. Civil liberties groups have spoken out on the measure, stating the new legislation offers no restrictions on drone surveillance operations by police and federal agencies and could put us on track toward a “surveillance society.”

What I’ll add is that we’re already a surveillance society, if not quite as Panopticon-ish as the UK. The feds don’t need flying spy robots to be all surveillance-y when they have closed-circuit TV cameras scattered hither and yon, and your neighbors are happily dropping a dime (or rollover minutes) on one another for the greater glory of state security.

Civil liberties are too precious to waste on enemies

Among the things that make rights — in particular, that basket of rights commonly referred to as “civil liberties” — actual rights as opposed to privileges, is that they are inviolable and universal. That is, even people you don’t like enjoy these rights, and are entitled to the protection of the same. And even people you do like have to respect these rights, or suffer the consequences for violating them.

Which brings us to the media reaction to the hassle Sen. Rand Paul went through with the TSA goons at the Nashville, Tennessee, airport. From an OpEd Paul wrote about the incident for the Washington Times:

Today, while en route to Washington to speak to hundreds of thousands of people at the March for Life, I was detained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for not agreeing to a patdown after an irregularity was found in my full body scan. Despite removing my belt, glasses, wallet and shoes, the scanner and TSA also wanted my dignity. I refused.

I showed them the potentially offending part of my body, my leg. They were not interested. They wanted to touch me and to pat me down. I requested to be rescanned. They refused and detained me in a 10-foot-by-10-foot area reserved for potential terrorists.

The OpEd goes on to describe the TSA and its procedures as a “blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment,” though it ends on a weak — even impotent — note calling for nothing more than “legislation that will allow for adults to be rescreened if they so choose” so they don’t have to submit to pat-downs.

Anger at the TSA is nothing new, and it’s hardly partisan. People screamed about TSA intrusions under Bush, and they scream about them under Obama. Oddly, at least so far as bureaucrats are concerned, many people seem to object to being groped, electronically stripped, herded, told to shut up and otherwise abused just so they can make an early-morning  business meeting or drag the kiddies through the purgatory that is a Disney theme park.

But the Paul incident raises problems for some pundits — specifically, because the victim was a (presumptively evil) libertarian-ish conservative Republican, and the perpetrators were (presumptively angelic) unionized government workers. The result, at least at Gawker, was an odd rant about white, educated libertarians (author Max Read doesn’t seem too well-endowed with melanin himself, though I know nothing of his educational bona fides), followed by a bizarre tantrum about the supposed low stakes and “inconsequential” violations inherent in TSA procedures, so that libertarians should just shut up already about travel restrictions and pay more attention to the war on drugs.

Because … libertarians have been sadly overlooking the drug prohibition issue for lo, these many years, I guess.

Read then concludes by taking a labor-meathead route to a neo-conservative, law-and-order conclusion:

[T]he act of refusing a pat down, and calling it a “detention,” comes across as an unbelievably petty dramatic fit instead of the imagined noble stand against an oppressive government. Couple that with the fact that TSA agents are union workers, often minorities, just trying to do their jobs, and it’s really difficult to feel like this is a “stand” worth taking at all. Just let them pat you down, guy. Stop holding up the line.

Wow, Max. It must be embarrassing to be you. But it’s worse for your mom, I’ll bet.

Esquire‘s Charles P. Pierce didn’t even try for coherent, simply smirking about the incident and speculating that Rand Paul would have had no objections to a grope conducted by Tennessee authorities because — ha! ha! — ummm …

I guess because Paul necessarily supports civil liberties protections only against federal authorities? Pierce really needs to add a footnote there. Just to clarify.

Jessica Pieklo of Care2 suggests that the universe has a sense of humor, because Rand Paul was on his way to an anti-abortion rally when he was detained, and only people who share her overall views are entitled to have any of their rights protected.

That’s also Steve Benen’s position, at the Washington Monthly.

And Library Grape reads from the same script.

Oh, c’mon. I’m pro-choice, too, but do we really want to go to the position of “if you don’t agree with me, then this is just an exercise in irony and you get what you deserve”? That path seems a little … messy. I guarantee you that few, if any of these bloggers will satisfy even each others’ civil liberties purity tests (and certainly not mine), which is likely to leave us all grabbing our ankles, unprotected because of our ideological imperfections.

Which, I guess, is OK, so long as the violators are good, unionized, blue-collar types. Right?

Privacy ain’t dead, but your brand is confusing

My latest post for When Falls the Coliseum is up at … well … When Falls the Coliseum. I posit that our concerns about the death of privacy in the online age have less to do with privacy than with keeping the lies we tell about ourselves straight with their intended target audiences.

Check it out here.

If you don’t like it, don’t fly

The police-state fan boys are quick to tell us that if we don’t like the new and ever-more intrusive security measures at airports, we should just stay on the ground. What they don’t add is that the be-gloved objects of their crushes aren’t content to confine their peeping and groping to the realm of air travel — they want to take the show on the road. Check out the news report below on a checkpoint set up at a Tampa Greyhound bus station by TSA, Border Patrol and local police.

I’ve been stopped at Border Patrol checkpoints within that magic 100-mile Constitution-free zone that runs around the perimeter of the United States, so I suspect that the same Constitutional leeway is being used to justify the Tampa incident — meaning that you might not (yet) encounter such checkpoints in the heartland. But does anybody doubt that it’s only a matter of time?

TSA pervs get no love

First, let’s acknowledge that the Transportation Security Administration isn’t really the problem. Or rather, it’s not the source of the problem. The TSA goons are just good Germans, following orders issued from up above by politicians and high-level bureaucrats who get hard-ons from the very thought of wielding power over the rest of the human race, and who often wield that power as intrusively as possible just to be perceived as “doing something” to protect the sheep from the panic of the moment.

But you have to start somewhere. So I sent the following email to the TSA:

Dear TSA Goons,

Fuck you very much. Yes, I understand that you didn’t set in place the policies that have set us on the road to a police state — that was the un-American, control-freak politicians who have exploited fear to enhance their own power and erode our liberty. But you have happily taken and held jobs that involve incursions into individual rights and privacy. That’s evil. You and the government behind you are worse enemies of America than Osama Bin Laden ever has been. I look forward to the day that the bunch of you are once again unemployed and back to peeking through bathroom windows to satisfy your urges.

Happy Holidays!

I added the “happy holidays” just so there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. They mean well — or so I’m told of the kind folks who threatened John Tyner with a lawsuit and hefty fine for leaving the security folks so unfulfilled with his gropus interruptus. After all, they did back off (sort of) after a wave of international ridicule made them look like petulant thugs.

Anyway, Tyner threatened to have the TSA pervs arrested if they touched his junk, and at least one California DA — Steve Wagstaffe in San Mateo County — appears willing to make good on that threat. Rep. Ron Paul has now introduced a bill intended to insure that all the usual laws against groping, frottage and making lewd images of other people apply to TSA agents to the same extent as to the rest of us, so they couldn’t claim immunity.

Fair is fair!

I’m still waiting to see how this all shakes out. For Christmas, my family will be driving eight hours rather than going anywhere near a TSA checkpoint. Not only am I not looking forward to a scope-or-grope encounter, I’m also not all that eager to find out how my email has been received by a gang of over-powerful bureaucrats with a history of thin skins.

You prefer a pat-down to the electronic strip search? We’ll see about that

Enough people are objecting to the backscatter body scanners at airports that the TSA is finally reacting — by making pat-downs so much more intrusive that you’ll actually prefer to show TSA agents your private parts. From The Atlantic:

At BWI, I told the officer who directed me to the back-scatter that I preferred a pat-down. I did this in order to see how effective the manual search would be. When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search.

Sorry — I dozed through the Fourth Amendment lecture

Says the Associated Press:

A Justice Department investigation has found that FBI agents, including several supervisors, cheated on an important test covering the bureau’s policies for conducting surveillance on Americans.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said Monday that his limited review of allegations that agents improperly took the open-book test together or had access to an answer sheet has turned up “significant abuses and cheating.”

Hmmm … Is anybody actually surprised that FBI officials considered even their own bureau’s rules regarding surveillance to be unworthy of a little study?

Increasingly unpopular airport body scanners may offer false security

USA Today documents the growing resistance to the use of body scanners at airports — a resistance that’s particularly marked in Europe. Complaints about the devices include the expected concerns about privacy, long lines, expense and potential health concerns from even the relatively low levels of radiation emitted by the machines.

It should be noted in addition, however, that body scanners aren’t some kind of proven, super-secure technology that offers us a choice between guaranteed safety and keeping our naughty bits under cover. In fact, the machines may offer a false sense of security. German television did a very interesting demonstration in which an infrared scanner failed to uncover various objects hidden on and around a subjects body — components for thermite. You don’t need to understand a word of the lingo to see what’s going on or to recognize the embarrassment on the (English-speaking) operator’s face. (But if you do speak German, please feel free to fill in the details).

Note that the types of scanners favored by the TSA have their own flaws. Ben Wallace, a British member of Parliament who used to advise a company that studied millimeter-wave scanners, says the devices are fine for picking up knives and guns, but can’t detect powder, liquid or thin plastic.