Thursday, June 26, 2003

Freaky homeland security news of the day

Remember those X-Ray vision glasses you could buy out of the back of magazines when you were little. The illustrations always promised the ability to see through clothes -- to either the underwear or skeletal level depending on the advertising standards of the publication. If you ever tried these contraptions, however, you know that all you really saw was a slightly distorted version of the other person.

Well the homeland security folks want to start using the real thing to screen folks at airports. And the difference is that they've finally perfected the technology. Susan Hallowell, the Director of the TSA's security laboratory, demonstrated the thing by letting a machine strip her naked in front of a roomfull of reporters with cameras. Her point was that, in addition to a very clear rendering of her various bumps and curves, the machine was able to clearly show images of bombs and weapons she had stashed under her clothing. "It does basically make you look fat and naked — but you see all this stuff," Hallowell said Wednesday during a demonstration of the technology.

I think this is pretty freaky, and apparently so do other people. (One of the next projects being contemplated is software to create a "virtual fig leaf" to preserve the modesty of travelers.)

The complete story is here.

Meanwhile, let's see what Ashcroft and his cronies are up to. The usual, it turns out: trying to send a guy to jail for holding up a protest sign. When President Bush came to Columbia, SC last year to speak to a Republican gathering, Brett Bursey decided to show his displeasure by standing in a public part of the airport with a sign reading "No War For Oil." Shortly before the president arrived, a Secret Service agent told him that he had to move to a "free speech area" about a half mile away from where the president would be speaking. Bursey said that he thought he was already in a free speech area -- the United States of America. This got him arrested, although the charges were quietly dropped shortly thereafter.

But local US Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. couldn't leave well enough alone, and decided to charge Bursey under a rarely-used law that allows the Secret Service to restrict access to areas the president is visiting. If convicted, Bursey could face six months in jail and a $5000 fine for holding his sign. (Bursey points out that the Secret Service didn't do anything about the crowd of people holding pro-Bush signs in the same area.)

The funny thing is, this is deja vu all over again. Bursey was arrested at the same airport in 1969 while waiting for a visit from President Nixon and holding a sign protesting the Vietnam war. That case was thrown out by the South Carolina Supreme Court when it ruled that protesters could not be charged with tresspassing if they were on public property.

Eleven members of congress (including a Republican and members of the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees) have already sent a note to Ashcroft asking him to put an end to this travesty. They pointed out that "no plausible argument can be made the Mr. Bursey was threatening the president by holding a sign which the president found politically offensive." But so far, the case is proceeding in court.

Sure catching terrorists is important. But a guy holding a sign isn't a terrorist. The administration has continues to take advantage of post-9/11 security concerns to stifle dissent and destroy the civil rights we are entitled to as American citizens. This really infuriates me.

(What with the new rules and all, I'll be expecting a homeland security van outside my house a few minutes after I publish this post. If you haven't seen one of my usual gripes by Monday, can someone please call the ACLU?)

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