Big Brother is Watching in Skokie...and Across the US


Britain's Observer-Guardian has a special report about changes in privacy and civil rights since the implementation of the Patriot Act here in the States post 9/11.

The article
starts as follows: "The message of the posters on the walls of Skokie library is plain: Big Brother is watching you. The signs, put up by librarian Caroline Anthony, warn of the radical new laws that have given the American government power to monitor the reading habits of its citizens without telling them."

It then goes on to discuss how the Patriot Act has affected the following: detention without grounds, air and ground travel, internet use, use of phones and e-mail, and treatment of foreign residents and visitors to the U.S. Also discussed were several suits filed on behalf of citizens opposed to the Act and Attorney General Ashcroft's "road show" to sell Americans on the benefits of the Act.


You know that law, the one where we say that the airlines have to demand identification from US citizens if they want to travel inside the country. You don't? Oh yeah, that's because it's a secret. I mean, you have to do it, but you aren't allowed to know what the law actually says.

Anyways, there's that law. And John Gilmore (of the EFF) is trying to take us to court over it, because he wants to know what the law actually says. But here's the kicker: Since the law is officially a secret, our testimony in court about why it's such a great law, and ought to remain a great, secret law, well, that needs to be a secret, too!

We should be able to take the judge into a back room for a while, and do whatever we need to in order to convince him that we're right. And Gilmore, well he and his lawyers don't need to know anything about it. Except of course that we are allowed to do it. Just like that law. You know, the one ... Well, you know what I mean.

I accept that you have a big problem with illegals, but when I was travelling in the US I wasn't there as an illegal immigrant - I was plainly there as a tourist with proper documentation and tickets out.

I still don't quite get the distinction between citizen and non-citizen in your argument, I'm afraid.

(And you'd be surprised - there are a LOT of illegals in the UK - I was nearly one myself, now I think about it).

"Not that there's anything wrong with such secrecy under the circumstances, but there appears to be no established (or at least consistently followed) procedure for getting oneself cleared from the lists. I want the Feds to capture suspected terrorists, too, but I reckon I'd get sorta pissed if I were repeatedly pulled aside and interrogated just because I was mistakenly labeled as a bad guy."

Its unfortunate yes, but its one more example in a very large file labeled 'The Failings of Government Bureaucracy". This file is one of the major reasons why some of us prefer to limit government to national defense and road building. Governments in general have a long history of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Unlike Britain we are dealing with a illegal immigration problem on a massive scale.

I do recall reading some criticisms of the No Fly list though - wasn't Sen. Kennedy on it for a while, and only made it onto planes because airline staff recognised him? I've heard other examples as well, suggesting that there are at least some cases where the list catches EVERYONE with a certain name - and the secrecy around how it works means that you can't get yourself off the list (airline staff wouldn't tell Kennedy why he was on the list).

Greg made a comment about non-citizens. I'm curious about this point, which I've heard previously from Americans. Why is the distinction made? Do non-citizens have less legal protection/rights in the US? (Or is there a feeling that they should do?). I know when I lived in the UK (as an example) I had exactly the same rights as a British citizen. It concerns me somewhat that, when I travel through the US, I have fewer rights than my American friends. (Although actually, I'd settle for a 'thanks, sorry to trouble you' after going through that damn intensive screening at the airport. Yes, I can understand why it happens, but once you've realised I'm a harmless tourist, you could at least be nice to me, y'know? - sorry, got off-topic there a bit).

It's a secret law in the sense that it's a government procedure which affects citizens' liberties, and the workings are "sensitive security information" available only to folks with a need to know. (Check out all the deletions in the FBI and TSA responses to ACLU's FOIA requests.) It seems pretty safe to say that no one outside of TSA, FBI, etc., really has any idea what the criteria are for listing "these people."

Not that there's anything wrong with such secrecy under the circumstances, but there appears to be no established (or at least consistently followed) procedure for getting oneself cleared from the lists. I want the Feds to capture suspected terrorists, too, but I reckon I'd get sorta pissed if I were repeatedly pulled aside and interrogated just because I was mistakenly labeled as a bad guy.

It would be interesting to see an accross-the-board comparison of civil liberties in the U.S. and Western European countries, as to privacy, free speech, need for identification, freedom of conscience & religion, etc.

I was an exchange student in Austria in the academic year 1978-79, and one of the first things the nearly 30 of us Americans did after arriving in Baden was to trot over to the Meldeamt ("reporting office") and register ourselves as residents of the town. My recollection is that Austrians also had to report changes of residence--it wasn't simply because we were foreigners. In those days in the U.S., no-one carried identification as a matter of course except for a driver's licence, and that was only needed when driving. In Germany and Austria (where obtaining a driver's license was costly, and could only be done at age 18), anyone in their teens or older was expected to carry a personal identification card or a driver's license.

My suspicion is that an across-the-board comparison would yield a more complex picture than the current shouting about the Patriot Act and other anti-terror measures in the U.S. would suggest. I recall reading a year or so before 9/11/2001 that GB had more public surveillance cameras per person in actual use than any other industrialized nation.

Interesting stuff, thank you for the link.

First, this isn't a secret law. The no-fly list existed long before 9/11 and is used to detain suspects for questioning by law enforcement. In fact its not so much a 'no-fly' list as it is a 'law-enforcement-is-looking-for-these-people' list. 'These people' are possible spies or terrorists who have not committed a crime but their names have probably come in conversations with known criminals which makes them suspects in potential crimes. Being detained and questioned is due process so I don't see a violation.

The second list, the selectee list is a little trickier. It sounds like after someone is detained from the first list and questioned they may fall to the second list as potential threats. I have reservations about this in terms of American citizens, I have absolutely none with non-citizens.

I suspect Porch Geese is a bit confused and really meant to rant about the "no fly" list. (The administration of which *is* a secret law.)

The government doesn't make any secret about folks needing to present ID before boarding a flight.

I have no idea what their talking about in reference to a 'secret law', even after reading the article I don't know what their talking about, but since when could you ever board an airplane without showing identification?

Because of the breakdown in the immigration process it is not impossible to get into this country legally with the intent of doing harm.

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