As some of you know, I’ve been writing political commentary “pro bono” for about 18 months now. But my other “paying: gig is that of a project manager. Part of the job involves gathering information, detecting trends and predicting events in order to protect the interests of the project’s goals and timelines. Fortunately, many of those same skills carry over into this “nonpaying” editorial activity. Perhaps that’s why I write five days a week. And lately I’ve been thinking about an emerging government trend that seeks not only to discourage physical travel, but also control the traffic on the information super highway as well. Consider this:
The Physical World
Back on July 17, Frank Thomas of USA Today published an interview with the newly appointed Transportation Security Administration Chief, John Pistole. His comments served to warn us of increasing government intrusion concerning travel, which have recently manifested themselves as full body scans of all commercial airline passengers. Now it appears this is only the beginning, in light of Pistole’s candidate statements:
“Given the list of threats on subways and rails over the last six years going on seven years, we know that some terrorist groups see rail and subways as being more vulnerable because there’s not the type of screening that you find in aviation….. from my perspective, that is an equally important threat area.”
“I want to take TSA to the next level,”
In a coordinated dance to the same tune, Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano told this to Charlie Rose on November 22:
“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,”
“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”
Napolitano is clueless, which is why the federal government continues to escalate its non-discriminatory, invasive security measures designed to look for objects instead of terrorists. Today the focus is on airline travel, but apparently there are plans to include rail, subway and bus transportation as well. Predictably, Americans will probably avoid this hassle in favor of automobiles. Unfortunately, the federal government may have its sights on limiting that mode of transportation, based on these comments which were reported by this website reported on April 2:
Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu, was quoted as saying:
“Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to levels in Europe”.
That sentiment was echoed by Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, who on March 11 announced that federal transportation policies will no longer favor “motorized” transportation over “non-motorized” transportation.
“The establishment of well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities and their design should be part of federal aid project developments. Because of the benefits they provide, transportation agencies should give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes. The primary goal of a transportation system is to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Walking and bicycling are efficient transportation modes for most short-term trips and, where convenient intermodal systems exist, these non-motorized trips can easily be linked with transit to significantly increase trip distance. It is a way to coerce people out of their cars.”
When LaHood was asked if his TSA views represented an excessive amount of government intrusion into people’s lives. LaHood responded flippantly by saying:
“About everything we do around here is government intrusion into people’s lives, so have at it”.
The Virtual World
So it appears that the federal government is doing everything in his power to discourage your physical mobility, but what about your virtual mobility? Perhaps the Internet will still allow us to move about using images, sounds and words. Then again, perhaps not. Over this Thanksgiving weekend, the Department of Homeland Security has shut down approximately 70 websites using court ordered seizure warrants. Specifically, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has seized dozens of domain names by proclaiming that these sites are guilty of copyright infringement. The federal government has replaced them with the following message:
“This domain named has been seized by ICE, Homeland Security Investigations.”
It may be of some comfort that it requires the permission of a judge before substituting a website with federal warning message, but unfortunately those checks and balances may soon be waived as well. How? Because 19 members of the Senate Judiciary committee believe that law enforcement should have unilateral authority to shut down Internet sites without due process. They have written legislation entitled the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which was heavily lobbied and financially influenced by the entertainment industry. While it’s true that some senators intend to postpone the legislative debate until 2011, the threat of instant website seizure still looms, courtesy of these committee members -
Patrick J. Leahy – Vermont – D
Herb Kohl – Wisconsin – D
Jeff Sessions – Alabama – R
Dianne Feinstein – California – D
Orrin G. Hatch – Utah – R
Russ Feingold – Wisconsin – D
Chuck Grassley – Iowa – R
Arlen Specter – Pennsylvania – D, R
Jon Kyl – Arizona – R
Chuck Schumer — New York – D
Lindsey Graham — South Carolina – R
Dick Durbin – Illinois – D
John Cornyn – Texas – R
Benjamin L. Cardin – Maryland – D
Tom Coburn – Oklahoma – R
Sheldon Whitehouse — Rhode Island – D
Amy Klobuchar – Minnesota – D
Al Franken – Minnesota – D
Chris Coons – Delaware – D
So what exactly do full body scanners, vilification of automobiles and internet regulation have in common? Simple. The Department of Homeland Security is implementing a totalitarian authority using its massive organizational structure.
I find it ironic that the DHS has little interest in protecting our nation’s borders, yet encourages the TSA to exert oppressive search and seizure policies that result in fines and/or imprisonment if rejected by domestic travelers. I also find it troubling that DHS uses its other agency, ICE, to go after websites that might be guilty of selling counterfeit Louis Vuitton purses or bootleg MP3 downloads, all in the name of national security.
It begs the question of whether there are any limitations to the jurisdiction exercised by Department of Homeland Security today. For example, could this federal behemoth eventually move past copyright infringement and determine that any criticism of the government on a web site constitutes a “threat” to public safety, potentially resulting in seizure of the domain name? Could American citizens be denied freedom to travel domestically for a period of time if DHS suspects an impending terrorist threat? If that sounds far-fetched, just consider the procedures mandated for airline travel today compared with those just a year ago. Also remember that no planes were in the sky the day after 9/11.
Interestingly, it seems that conservatives and liberals are finally finding some common ground in their opposition to big government policies that fail to recognize our constitutionally protected freedoms. Consider this opinion from Lincoln Mitchell of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University:
“One of the defining characteristics of authoritarian regimes is that travel is suspect. The endless checking of papers, registering passports at hotels and train stations, carrying documents explaining why you have to go where you are going which has been part of life in unfree countries for years is something that most American notice, and are troubled by, immediately upon spending some time in an authoritarian country.”
“The new airport security measures demonstrate a frightening willingness on the part of the government regulators to apply an authoritarian, and ultimately nonsensical, logic to a real, but controllable security problem. Building a security system around the notion that everybody getting on an airplane might have the equipment for making a bomb tucked into their underwear will lead not to making us all feel safer, but to making us all feel like criminals. It reflects failure and laziness on the part of the US government.”
“Moreover, while these new tactics can be explained by national security concerns, it should be remembered that there has never been an authoritarian country that did not have national security concerns which were ultimately used to explain authoritarian behavior. “
Mitchell’s editorial suggests that the debate of whether constitutional freedoms or personal safety take priority no longer fits with the conservative versus liberal political model. Perhaps a more accurate description juxtapositions Americans who believe in limited government versus politicians who have an authoritarian mindset, not only for our mobility, but also for freedom of speech. That new harsh reality may cause some liberals to break ranks and join conservatives against some unreasonably oppressive policies being dictated by Homeland Security. Policies that seem bent not only on discouraging American travel, but on flipping the switches that restrict traffic on the information super highway.
All because the federal government believes it has the right to ask
“Just where do you think you are going?”