The register
September 24, 2001 8:33 AM   Subscribe

The register chimes in on new anti-terrorist bills that attack due process, the fourth amendment, and encryption. Sample letters and information on how to contact your reps are available at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Act quickly, because congress sure will.
posted by skallas (40 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble has more on this kind of stuff.
posted by dagny at 8:42 AM on September 24, 2001

We're trying to get all the current legislation on the topic in one place.
(not exactly a self link, just your tax dollars at work)
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:13 AM on September 24, 2001

This upcoming conference will address cryptography issues.
posted by bkdelong at 9:22 AM on September 24, 2001

An major coalition is already moving to fight this. The list of groups united against it is quite impressive

Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Eagle Forum
Gun Owners of America
Human Rights Watch
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Seventh-Day Adventist Church

If something manages to unite such a disparate group against it, it must be a really terrible idea! (Gays and Lesbians united with the Seventh-Day Adventists?? Whoosh!) Anyway, I don't think it has any chance of passing Congress; it's already gotten way too much bad press and it's obvious that it's a blatant attempt to revoke the Bill of Rights.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2001

(as related to recent events)
posted by bkdelong at 9:24 AM on September 24, 2001

It's not just in America. In the UK we've got a government with a dangerously large majority who wants to do this.
posted by Summer at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2001

I think all you patriots out there who are spitting and whining about defending your privacy are going to change your tone when we get our first suitcase nuke or plague. While you're worrying about the feds finding your illegal copies of 90210, islamic militants are ordering jihad supplies from eBay.
posted by zanpo at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2001

Can anyone tell me if these laws would have helped them prevent the attacks on Sept. 11?
posted by cell divide at 9:34 AM on September 24, 2001

that's got to be one powerful ID card to stop a suitcase nuke.
posted by tolkhan at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2001

or immunize against plague
posted by tolkhan at 9:37 AM on September 24, 2001

Never thought I'd see the Eagle Forum and the ACLU together on something, either.
posted by witchstone at 10:08 AM on September 24, 2001

In order to be a free society that can defend itself against terrorism, we need to set limits on people's freedoms. One should not be free to order botulism from a pharmaceutical company, or walk onto The Mall with a nuclear weapon. In order to defend ourselves against such threats, we need to grant our government the ability to track the movements of people and weapons. Right now, the CIA and FBI is working with one arm tied behind their backs.

There is a big difference between a police state and a country with a robust homeland defense and national security infrastructure. Right now, we have none! Until recently, our defense policy has been very outwardly focused. It is geared towards external forces and big targets. We need to focus our strategy inward, and weed out the terrorists, who pose as ordinary citizens and enjoy the same privacy rights as peace-loving and god fearing Americans.
posted by zanpo at 10:21 AM on September 24, 2001

You know, zanpo, for the most part I agree with you. I'm still not sure what the average American needs encrypted email for. But Jihad supplies on eBay?

Search titles and descriptions (to find more items!)
Show Completed Items
Show only Auction for America items

Sorry, we couldn't find any items for botulism.

posted by Dean King at 10:37 AM on September 24, 2001

One should not be free to order botulism from a pharmaceutical company, or walk onto The Mall with a nuclear weapon.

Uh, you're not free to do either of these without breaking the law.

In order to be a free society that can defend itself against terrorism, we need to set limits on people's freedoms. (Emphasis added.)

This gets my vote for "Best Unintentional Doublespeak" Award of the week.
posted by Skot at 10:37 AM on September 24, 2001


encrypted email might be good for cases when you have to send sensitive information -- such as a social security number, an address, or a credit card number -- to someone else. you don't know what machines your email goes through along the way; certainly one of those machines can be rigged to sniff your email, in much the same way that the fabled FBI Carnivores can. as a rule of thumb, i usually assume that's the case and avoid having to send such information at all via plain text (such as email).


i think your approach to combatting terrorism is wrong-headed. stripping our freedoms in order to bolster our security isn't the way to go: examining why people commit acts of terrorism should be. it's far too convenient for people these days to claim that terrorists are "evil", as if there's no other explanation for their acts. maybe it isn't easy to head off individual acts, but we can certainly stop the trend of other countries having such a problem with the united states -- if we're willing.
posted by moz at 10:58 AM on September 24, 2001

zanpo: the fallacy I believe many people are buying into over this issue is the postulate that it is simple to discrimitate a terrorist from an, as you say, "peace-loving god fearing American", that it simple to draw boundaries around expanded governmental power such that homeland defense is enhanced while civil liberties are maintained.

Okay, I'll bite. No, we shouldn't allow ordinary Joes to buy botulism from a pharmacorp. As far as I know, we don't. But where do you draw the line? How about precursor chemicals to chemical weapons, many of which have household uses? How about box knives, which were used by the terrorists to take over the planes on September 11? Martial arts and strength training, which could conceivably be used to overpower a flight crew without the use of any items that can be held at a security checkpoint whatsoever? If some rugby players and an ex-Marine or two took over the UAL flight that crashed in Somerset County from a crazed, armed group of suicide hijackers, should we even allow such dangerous people as rugby players on airplanes with the rest of us "peace-loving, god fearing Americans" at all? The terrorists used email, too, so we should probably monitor all email communication. Oh, but they probably encrypted it, so let's outlaw encryption. Did one of the hijackers ever make a phone call about the "operation"? If so, what safeguards should our robust homeland defense take to ensure our phone network isn't used against us again? How do we deicde which people to let the CIA and FBI track? Any Muslim? Anyone with a beard? Anyone who gets on to an airplane? Anyone who has ever made a criticism of our government or our society? And as for weapons tracking, how do you define a weapon? Wooden dowels can cause blunt trauma. Aerosol hairspray can be used inflict temporary blindness; add a match and you have a flamethrower. You can kill a person with a roll of twine.

Hyperbolic, yes, but illustrative: we shouldn't be in the business of trying to draw boundaries on liberty that we can't even define.
posted by Vetinari at 11:07 AM on September 24, 2001

great caesar's ghost! zanpo was right! you may not be able to find botulism on ebay, but look at all this Anthrax stuff! we must be protected from it! someone think of the children!
posted by tolkhan at 11:14 AM on September 24, 2001

Doublespeak? More like safetyspeak. Afterall, we cannot have Peace without a War on terror. And what is Freedom, anyway? Is Freedom not Slavery to an ideal, an ideal that might threaten safety? Safety is the goal. As Larry Ellison says, Freedom is an illusion. Safety is not.
posted by cell divide at 11:18 AM on September 24, 2001

Moz: I grant the importance of encryption for online banking, e-commerce, and other such applications. But since my bank and Amazon and the rest already incorporate the technology, I've never felt it necessary to use PGP myself. I just do the same as you and don't send certain things by email. Hell, I'm already suspicious about the telephone.

Also, I think there should be a distinction made between "stopping a trend" and "stopping an immediate threat." Right now I'm concerned about active terrorists still in the country. Let's neutralize them first, then go on to the examination of what made them angry and what we can do about it.

(Before anybody loads up their flamethrower and points it my way, let me just say I'm pretty conflicted on this issue, so I'm thinking out loud and looking for input.)
posted by Dean King at 11:21 AM on September 24, 2001

I'm still not sure what the average American needs encrypted email for.

I'm sure people said the same thing about envelopes.
posted by holgate at 11:28 AM on September 24, 2001

I see a great need for box-cutter identity cards.
posted by websavvy at 11:52 AM on September 24, 2001

I'm afraid you're all missing the point. I'm not saying that what we need to do is necessarily purely 'right'. This is not a case of 'black and white' idealism. In fact, we'll eventually have to bite the bullet and give up some of our freedoms. Any privelage that is abused will always result in people trying to take it away. We need to find an acceptable middle ground that allow for good security and prevents people from using our own freedoms against us.

It's time that we look into a way to give the government more ability to protect us. And we have to do it in a controlled manner with checks and balances built in. I'm a little weary of the knee-jerk 'big brother' response.

If we are dead, what good is freedom? I guarantee you that it will only take one suitcase nuke or plague for there to be mass hysteria. And then where will our freedoms be?
posted by zanpo at 12:04 PM on September 24, 2001

If we destroy what we value about our nation in order to save it, what have we got left?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:09 PM on September 24, 2001

Zanpo, I don't disagree that one suitcase nuke or plague will reduce our freedom to live in peace.

My question is, will these reduced freedoms being discussed actually be able to stop this? So far I have yet to see any convincing evidence (and hardly any evidence at all) that these measures could have prevented the attacks on the 11th of September, or that they could prevent any further attacks.
posted by cell divide at 12:09 PM on September 24, 2001

For Zanpo and others of like mind -

Freedom always comes with risk. The freedom to use our roads to drive where you want, without filing a travel plan with some government agency, has as its cost the chance that the same freedom will be used by people who will transport drugs, weapons, and other contraband.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, together, mean that some radical can publish texts that incite violence, promote public dissent, and ironically argue against the very freedoms under which it was published.

Yes, people can use "our own freedoms against us," as you say. But that is one of the costs of freedom, and I am willing to pay it.

Every sacrifice of liberty is a victory for the terrorists.
posted by yesster at 12:21 PM on September 24, 2001

zanpo - everything you mentioned is already illegal. Demanding competent intelligence agencies would make much more of a difference than making things doubly or trebly illegal.

In any society, we have to decide a balance between freedom and security (either absolute would be disastrous). I think that everything should be subject to a public cost/benefit analysis. I have yet to see any benefit plausible explanation about how the various proposed laws would have prevented anything that happened on 9/11.

For example, strong encryption is extremely important for almost everyone - in addition to just protecting financial data from credit card / identity theft, there's more than a little evidence that many national security agencies are gathering business intelligence - the E.U. recently concluded that the US/UK were listening to everything sent unencrypted and said the only answer was to use strong encryption.

To balance out the cost of weakening the global financial system, personal privacy and helping certain crimes, the benefits from mandatory insecure encryption would need to be huge. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no benefit from it - anyone who wants strong cryptography can easily obtain it from all over the world and could, if necessary, develop it from scratch (the math is well known). Since people like bin Laden are reported to already be using it, it's unclear how the US choosing not to use strong cryptography would inspire him to stop using it.

Even if strong cryptography disappeared entirely, there's overwhelming evidence that it would make little difference for the sort of hard-core criminals it's targeted at. It's just too easy to use codes or hand carry messages (anyone else catch the news that the CIA/NSA/et al were have problems intercepting bin Laden's communications because he's using family members to relay messages by hand?).

Finally, even if someone does come up with a reason why this might be important for getting bin Laden, any such restrictions should have a sunset provision requiring 66% of the congress to approve them after a certain date. If they've proven their worth that wouldn't be a problem...
posted by adamsc at 12:30 PM on September 24, 2001

In a related story, Philip Zimmerman sent a message to slashdot complaining about how the Washington Post article severely misquoted him.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2001

I can see the future now, O.B. Laden turns himself in, hires Johnny Cochran, jury lets him off.
posted by zanpo at 12:59 PM on September 24, 2001

Actually, Zanpo, if that were to happen after correctly following all jurisprudence, I would be satisfied.
posted by yesster at 1:04 PM on September 24, 2001

If we are dead, what good is freedom?

Tell that to all the people that died to provide that freedom. I'd turn it around for you. Without freedom what good is life? I'll go further than most will on this board. If it's a choice between this country abandoning the freedoms that make it great or criminals flying planes into buildings, I'll take the burning buildings. Freedom is that important. And, it's more than a little facetious because I don't believe for one minute that abdicating our freedoms will prevent somebody walking into a mall with a suitcase nuke. If they can get the nuke (something most countries still can't manage), I guarantee you that no amount of searches will prevent them getting it into a population dense kill radius.

All laws are predicated on the fact that we must give up some freedoms for the good of the country. Normally, I can't kill you. That is a restriction on my rights that I agree is a needed component of security. However, you reading my e-mail wouldn't have stopped what happened on 9/11. So the desire to abdicate that particular right is knee-jerk and fear based. Liberty is hard. It always has been. As somebody else pointed out, there are plenty of places that are less free you can go to. If you manage to erode the US's freedoms though, I don't have nearly as many options for moving.

I don't want to live in a country where my communications are monitored. I don't want to live in a country where my movements are tracked. I don't want to live in a country where my beliefs could at any moment be considered a "threat to national security"
posted by willnot at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2001

Willnot - thank you for your post. I am in full agreement.

However, you already live (if living in the US) in a country where your communications are monitored (FBI's carnivore), your movements are tracked (phones with GSS required, lo-jack in cars, etc), and your beliefs, as expressed here, are considered a threat to national security (by some citizens, not yet by the government).

I actually hope that we go a little further in eroding freedoms, so that we can have a backlash of restoring those freedoms. I don't know what it will take for most people to wake up to this issue. So many are willing to sacrifice freedoms for a false sense of security.

It's a dangerous world, and laws aren't going to change that.
posted by yesster at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2001

Amen, willnot.

Zanpo might like living in a country that trades civil liberties for security. The Taliban did just that to Afghanistan. Petty crimes, rapes, etc. are all down drastically.
posted by websavvy at 2:06 PM on September 24, 2001

So, then, how do we get real security? Personally, I'm all for freedom. I love my freedom, and I don't ever take it for granted. I'd love to have my cake and eat it too. Is that possible?
posted by zanpo at 2:16 PM on September 24, 2001

I think you have to question your leaders and their policies. Even in times like now. Especially in times like now.
posted by websavvy at 3:42 PM on September 24, 2001

I would rather die sitting at my work desk than give up the things that make this country great. We live in a world that will never be 100% safe. Trying to make it that way by inviting the government to track everything you do is a bad idea.

I would rather die a free man than live under constant government surveillance.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:48 PM on September 24, 2001

Zanpo, we cannot get real security. That's all. It can't be done. It's the price we pay for being free.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:50 PM on September 24, 2001

I'm of two minds on this debate.

I say this is as sensitively as I can, but for those of you saying things like this

If it's a choice between this country abandoning the freedoms that make it great or criminals flying planes into buildings, (willnot)

I doubt you would be so likely to say this while standing in the aforementioned burning building. I think you'd happily write in plain text for the rest of your life than burn to death.

The problem seems to be that many are suggesting that freedom is absolute. It's not, even now. As zanpo pointed out, our freedom is already curtailed in some cases - such as not being able to sell botulin toxin, etc. If there's a slippery slope, we're already on it. That doesn't mean we can't be concerned about slipping more, but it does make it disingenuous to make that slope into the bogeyman.

On the other hand, even if crypto were banned, as many have already stated, it's already out there and not exactly difficult to re-engineer. And beyond that, an earlier link pointed out that the sheer wealth of data is as large an obstacle to intelligence agents as is anything else.

In short, I just don't know.
posted by Sinner at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2001

If it's a choice between this country abandoning the freedoms that make it great or criminals flying planes into buildings, I'll take the burning buildings. Freedom is that important.

Isn't that obvious?? :::looks around at people suspiciously:::

Zanpo, we cannot get real security. That's all. It can't be done. It's the price we pay for being free.

Exactly. Or, put another way, life is risk. You do what you reasonably and morally can to minimize risk of harm to yourself and others, but at the end of the day, there are threats all around you that cannot be eliminated.
posted by rushmc at 4:44 PM on September 24, 2001

Maybe I should move to Montana. DC is too dangerous.
posted by zanpo at 7:57 AM on September 25, 2001

It's an old argument, but I agree completely with old Ben Franklin, who said in the 1750s:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
posted by eptitude at 8:45 AM on September 25, 2001

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