100,000 years is a long time
June 8, 2003 11:41 PM   Subscribe

John Gilmore, co-founder of the EFF , is suing a couple of airlines, the FAA, the FBI, the TSA, the DHS, and a Mr. John Ashcroft. Why? May I see your papers, please?
posted by majcher (36 comments total)
No-fly list ensnares innocent travelers

As the war on terrorism spurs U.S. intelligence agencies to constantly expand aviation watch lists, many airline-reservation systems rely on name- searching software based on a 120-year-old indexing system that mistakes the similar spelling or sound of innocent passengers' surnames for those of terrorists.

The result: Thousands of travelers have been flagged at airports for additional searches and police questioning -- while critics say real terrorists could slip through undetected.

posted by homunculus at 12:11 AM on June 9, 2003

And speaking of Mr. John Ashcroft.
posted by homunculus at 12:15 AM on June 9, 2003

While I agree with most of the statements of Gilmore , there's one that is very puzzling :

But we would all be safer if the honest passengers had weapons as good or better than the weapons smuggled aboard by hijackers.

According to some gun owner or advocate the idea that a bullet could cause a rapid or catastrophic decompression is just a myth best left to Hollywood.

That still doesn't solve the question of who is honest and who isn't, John. Honest looking people turn crazy in seconds. How do you solve it, with a database of their past action ? Looks like a self-goal of noticeable proportions.

According to some dude on the net even if we prepare a bunker-cabin, there's still the risk of it being infiltrated by some terrorist.

I think that's much easier to screen maybe some hundred thousand airplane pilots and crews than screening 300Million or more people.

Also about anonymity, remember that when paying with a credit card your anonymity is already GONE. Cash without any kind of embedded microdevice seems to be better then CC.
posted by elpapacito at 3:18 AM on June 9, 2003

Q. So you say a demand for ID is a search under the Fourth Amendment. Are you trying to get rid of all the searches in airports, like at the X-Ray machines?

In this case, we are not challenging the X-ray machine searches, we are only challenging the ID requirement and the secret directives

He lost me here. Slipping away from a valid question without answering. I want luggage searched. I want all luggage searched. By people who are awake and competent. I'm betting most people who fly do.
posted by srboisvert at 3:40 AM on June 9, 2003

I want luggage searched. I want all luggage searched. By people who are awake and competent. I'm betting most people who fly do.

Fine. I want your car searched too. Far more road vehicles have been used for terrorist attacks than aeroplanes. Then, every time you get on a bus I want you searched. Just in case you have explosives strapped to you. At what point would I be taking it too far?
posted by walrus at 4:10 AM on June 9, 2003

srbois: he's answering. "We don't challenge X-Ray searches". After all , as far as we know, the xray doesn't know who you are, it just looks in the baggage to see if there's some weapon or explosive. It doesn't ask you why are you bringing a dildo with you :D
posted by elpapacito at 4:14 AM on June 9, 2003

Honest looking people turn crazy in seconds.

Some database of everything everyone has ever done isn't a way to solve this at all. The only solution to this is absolute foreknowledge of events.

Which is, of course impossible (Hollywood not withstanding). No self-goal here. Next.

Here's something to consider:

Assume we have a procedure that is 99.9% accurate in identifying terrorists. In other words, in every 1,000 examinations, the system will make one error-- either a false positive or a false negative.

Now, given that most people aren't terrorists, that error will overwhelmingly be a false positive; so one out of every thousand honest passengers will be tagged 'terrorist' and detained/interrogated/arrested/imprisoned.

If we assume that terrorists make up one hundreth of one percent (0.01%) of the population, (at 300 million people this estimates the 'terrorist population' in the US at a rather optimistic 30,000 people), we find that out of 10,000 people screened at the airport, exactly one terrorist will be correctly identified, but also that ten innocent people are incorrectly identified.

This is why doctors order follow-up tests when you test positive for some condition. When the incidence of a condition is small as a percentage of the general population, even a small false positive rate means that more false positives will occur than true positives.

Obviously, prescreening make absolutely no mathematical sense whatsoever. When you add in the fact that actual terrorists will game the system by conducting dry runs using multiple operatives, and then (on the day of the attack) using the person with the lowest chance of being flagged as the mule to carry the weapons, the numbers get even worse (mainly because the chance of a false negative becomes several orders of magnitude smaller than the chance of a false positive).

You're better off with a pure random sample, or equally screening everyone. Which, if you note, Gilmore is not objecting to. Neither would I. But as it stands, the system is worse than useless.
posted by Cerebus at 6:17 AM on June 9, 2003

Oops. That should read "...mainly because the chance of a false negative becomes several orders of magnitide greater than the chance of a false positive..."

/me slaps self.
posted by Cerebus at 6:19 AM on June 9, 2003

I agree utterly with everything John Gilmore has to say here, and with all of the arguments he has made for his point of view.

Sadly, this fact insures his suit will fail completely.
posted by dong_resin at 6:35 AM on June 9, 2003

I'm with srboisvert, mostly. Actually, I think that improved technology for searches is the only way we could ever return to anonymous travel.

Even if you are an Eeevil Terrorist, you won't be able to blow up the plane or knife the flight attendant if you can't ever smuggle weapons on board. With perfect detection, if you get through, you're harmless, so who cares who you are?

Impossible, of course, but maybe someday searches will improve to the point where it's more efficient for The Terrorists™ to stand in a long-term parking lot with a SAM launcher.
posted by tss at 6:50 AM on June 9, 2003

But that's not Gilmore's contention at all. In fact, if you read the transcript of the hearing on 17 Jan, his lawyers note explicitly that the searches are not objected to if they are either completely random or target all flyers equally.

X-rays target all passengers equally, so they are not the subject of Gilmore's suit; he says exactly that in answer to the question in the FAQ. So I'm not really clear on what srboisvert thinks is being side-stepped.

You don't need IDs to scan bags, or search everyone, or search randomly. You only need IDs to use CAPPS or no-fly lists.
posted by Cerebus at 7:09 AM on June 9, 2003

Cerebus: there is a self-goal clearly, he states

But we would all be safer if the honest passengers had weapons

Define Honest. Even if we had a rule that says "the guy is honest if he doesn't shoot people for terrorist purposes" somebody can suddendly go insane and shoot for whatever reason or no reason at all.

Here's the self goal: let honest people have guns so they'll react to terrorist ; implicit assumption is made they will react , implicit assumption is made they'll not use them for other reasons than shooting terrorists, another implicit assumption is that having guns on a plane is safer than not having any gun at all, because some people on a plane reacted to terrorist in the past, with no proof that this will happen again.

The worst implicit assumption is that if the passenger is honest, then he's not a terrorist. If not a terrorist he can bring a gun onboard because (not being a terrorist but a honest passenger) he will not use it for terrorist purposes.

So let's have a database or random checks or whatever, let honest people bring gun , they're always less then terrorist ! Yet if some terrorist escapes the set of rules we establish to define what is a terrorist, he already has got a gun to start with.
posted by elpapacito at 7:15 AM on June 9, 2003

elpapacito: Still no goal. While Gilmore may have said 'honest', I think what he meant was 'everyone other than the terrorists'. I'm willing to postulate that a plane full of equally well armed passengers would be quite safe from hijacking. On even a small aircraft, a hijacker is still at a 50-to-1 disadvantage.

I'd fly under those conditions.
posted by Cerebus at 7:25 AM on June 9, 2003

Cerebus: Far West mentality my dear. Two scenarios:

1) More the one terrorist. Two keep the "heroic" passengers busy ducking by shooting at them.
One reaches the cabin. If the plane survives the shooting, it's lost to the 3rd one.

2) Cabin is bulletproof and sealed from inside, with orders NOT to open the door not even
if some passenger is going to die. Flight attendants will tend to him. You still can
infiltrate with fake pilot, but it's so much easier to screen accurately pilots, flight crew
than letting a bunch of people on a plane with guns or destroying privacy.
posted by elpapacito at 7:47 AM on June 9, 2003

Gilmore is a leftist loon. I am all for searches and ensuring the safety of my air travel. Sure it's a pain and some of the screening lacks a little common sense, but I'd rather be safe.
posted by MediaMan at 8:05 AM on June 9, 2003

I didn't say it was a perfect plan, I said it wasn't a self-defeating argument on Gilmore's behalf. 8) I'd much prefer an armored cockpit to an armed passenger cabin.

However, I'm still going to bank on the passengers overwhelming an attemped hijacking from this day forward. Hijackings succeeded in the past because passengers were trained to keep quiet and go along, and eventually they will either be rescued or released through negotiations. Before 9/11, that's how the majority of airline hijackings turned out.

Now, passengers must assume that any given hijacker is bent on suicide. The choice now is sit still and certainly die, or rush the hijackers and possibly die. I know I'd be on my feet.

The optimum solution is El Al airlines' solution: armor the cockpit and put an armed guard aboard each flight. Then the terrorists can go back to trying to put bombs aboard the luggage, which we can more easily catch. (El Al defeats barometric fuses by running all luggage through hypobaric chambers prior to the flight, and defeats timed fuses by never being on time anyway 8).
posted by Cerebus at 8:08 AM on June 9, 2003

MediaMan: Did you even read Gilmore's position?

Once again, for clarity: Gilmore does not believe that searches of baggage or passengers is wrong, and is not objecting to them as long as they are either:

1) Truly random, or

2) Target everyone.

Gilmore is objecting to the requirement to produce an ID or be denied boarding, according to secret rules written by the FAA. The ID requirement is intimately tied to profiling and screening systems (like the no-fly list and CAPPS) which are fundamentally uselss and mathematically unsound practices that provide no security.

Do you think that a hijacker has no access to fake IDs? Do you think that the hijackers too stupid to realize how easy it is to reverse engineer the profiling system and figure out which among them is least likely to be searched?

Or was the opportunity to spout a little rightest screed too good to pass up?
posted by Cerebus at 8:15 AM on June 9, 2003

I'm willing to postulate that a plane full of equally well armed passengers would be quite safe from hijacking. On even a small aircraft, a hijacker is still at a 50-to-1 disadvantage.

But what is a hijacker shaped some semtex to look like a gun and took that on board?
posted by biffa at 8:39 AM on June 9, 2003

Gilmore is a leftist loon. I am all for searches and ensuring the safety of my air travel. Sure it's a pain and some of the screening lacks a little common sense, but I'd rather be safe.

When was it exactly that freedom-above-all-else people got cast as leftists?

Now if all the freedom-lovers would come to their senses and stop voting republican we could get someplace.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:23 AM on June 9, 2003

Gilmore is a leftist loon. I am all for searches and ensuring the safety of my air travel. Sure it's a pain and some of the screening lacks a little common sense, but I'd rather be safe.

As has been pointed out, this is not Gilmore's position. And this is a loon. They're very nice birds.
posted by norm at 10:04 AM on June 9, 2003

The current "screening" system actually makes for weaker security, according to Charles Mann's article, Homeland Insecurity
posted by stefanie at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2003

When was it exactly that freedom-above-all-else people got cast as leftists?

It was right around PATRIOT Act time, when only a dirty terrorist would have questioned our sactified leaders Bush and Ashcroft. Plus, I do believe that a Democrat was the onlyone in the Senate to oppose it.

This is going to change. With Bob Barr working with the ACLU, and the NRA teaming up to fight Republican-branded FCC deregulation, those that value the constituiton, (small-r) republicanism, and individual liberties are slowly becmoing a political contingent unto themselves. If thusly-minded Democrats could just get over the 2nd ammendment, and thusly-minded Republicans could just get over morality, we could see a real "Lebertarian Left" or some shit.

I have never, ever in my life felt more afinity for gun owners than in the last two years. I understand the fear of having my identity flagged or rights limited. As an atheist who collects subversive literature, I feel like the people who can't comprehend my choices should fuck off because this is America. Speak to that, and I'll vote for ya.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2003

Ignatius: I don't understand or accept your choices so fuck you too ? That's a chain of "fuck you" to no end and with no end. Wow so subversive it subverts logic and rational reasoning, fucking brilliant ! You sure you don't work for Fox the Spinning company ?
posted by elpapacito at 11:46 AM on June 9, 2003

In my head, I'm trying to argue this from the other side. There's an assumption here that (ID check = search) and I'm not completely sure that I buy it. Gilmore argues that ID checks are illegal under the constitution, but for him to be correct they are only illegal because they are being used to collect profiling data. Thus it would seem that ID checks are not unconstitutional in and of themselves, rather it is the use of the information gained from the ID check that is illegal.

So, why not go after laws allowing government/business to perform these investigations? Is an ID check illegal in and of itself?
posted by cohappy at 11:49 AM on June 9, 2003

In Gilmore's hearing, his lawyers brought up a case--- Lawson-- which they claim the 9th Circuit made a distinction between a request for an ID, which can be refused, and a demand, which cannot.

Apparently this is taken to mean that the demand for an ID (which you cannot refuse) is a search under the precedents established by the court, and under these circumstances this search is unconstitutional. That CAPPS and the no-fly list rely on IDs is immaterial to the basis of Gilmore's complaint.

I haven't (yet) read the case. It's interesting to note that the the DoJ is basing some of its argument on the same case.

Is an ID check illegal in and of itself? If that ID check is being used to hinder travel, yes, it probably is. If the government can demand an ID in order to travel within the US, then it has established a de facto internal passport with all that implies. The Supreme Court recognized the unlimited nature of our right to travel among the States back in 1869.
posted by Cerebus at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2003

elpapacito :

Wow. I really failed to communicate there. I should have said that those who want to restrict my choices should fuck off, not anyone who makes different choices. It was the plurality of choices -- i.e. liberty -- that I was trying to defend in the first place. I was not at all trying to say "fuck you" to anybody. I was saying that for the first time in my life I feel forces that want to monitor and restrict my lawful activities. In that way, I can relate to gun owners whereas I never could.

And while I was by no means speaking to you directly, yeah it makes me want to say "fuck off" when people try to restrcit my legal rights based on morality and not law, which is what happens when religion breeds with government and when the attorney general is given the right to look at your library and purchasing records. How is that irrational? Some things are worth getting angry at.

I don't understand what made you upset. What I am saying is that while I have always understood in theory that it is important to protect the rights of the "undesirable" elements of society, I have never personally been considered such before now.

I'm really sorry if I offended you. Maybe read my comment again, or something.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:26 PM on June 9, 2003

Oh, and the "subversive literature" thing:

I was not trying to imply that somehow my reading list is more enlightened than anyone else's, just that I want to retain the freedom to read whatever the hell I want. When I was a kid, and I heard about the Nazis, I read Mein Kampf. I read the Anarchist Cookbook, and not because I wanted to make a bomb, but because I wanted to know what the hell I was talking about when the subject came up. I am not a nazi, or a terrorist, or a structural functionalist -- even though I have bought books by Claude Levi-Strauss -- but anyone spying on my activities could decide if I was, especially if they wanted to.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:32 PM on June 9, 2003

FWIW, here's what FindLaw has to say on the matter of a right to travel.

While of course no particular mode of travel is a right, if the government makes it impossible for all reasonable modes of travel to be used, then that right has be abrogated in violation of Article IV, Section 2. In Gilmore's case, he cannot drive due to a medical condition, and the ID requirement has been levied on bus, train, boat and air travel alike. As noted in the hearing, Mr. Gilmore's only option for travelling with anonymity would be to go to the unreasonable extent of hiring a private car-- which would fail the "reasonable man" tests most of our law resides on.
posted by Cerebus at 12:34 PM on June 9, 2003

A summary of the Lawson case :

A California statute requires persons who loiter or wander on the streets to identify themselves and to account for their presence when requested by a peace officer. The California Court of Appeal has construed the statute to require a person to provide "credible and reliable" identification when requested by a police officer who has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to justify a stop under the standards of Terry v. Ohio

Terry v Ohio can be found here. The Terry case determined what a policeman can and cannot do in situations where there is suspicion of wrongdoing but not probable cause. Here is a summary:

Terry encounters must be brief; the suspect must not be moved or asked to move more than a short distance; physical searches are permitted only to the extent necessary to protect the police officers involved during the encounter; and, most importantly, the suspect must be free to leave after a short time and to decline to answer the questions put to him.

The Lawson case determined that

By defining as a crime the failure to respond to requests for personal information during a Terry encounter, and by permitting arrests upon commission of that crime, California attempts in this statute to compel what may not be compelled under the Constitution. Even if 647(e) were not unconstitutionally vague, the Fourth Amendment would prohibit its enforcement.

However, there are cases in favor of ID requirements. The Miller vs. Reed case argues that denying Miller a driver's license on the basis of his refusal to give his social security number is not enough of a deterrent to conclude that his right to interstate travel has been abrogated - losing the right to drive himself around is not enough to conclude that his right to interstate travel has been encroached.

Also, the defense in the Gilmore case notes united states v davis (which I'm having trouble finding), which seems to argue that subjecting Gilmore to a search for refusing to give an ID is not a violation of his constitutional rights. In Florida v Royer, the defense shows that requests for identification are indeed constitutional. The defense also makes a distinction between "regular" requests for information "administrative" requests, and argues that airport requests for ID's are administrative. An administrative request does not need probable cause, it just has to be "reasonable". Defense argues that searching Gilmore would indeed be reasonable under an "administrative" request for information, and sites Davis again as justification.

Quite a bit seems to be hinging on United States v Davis. If the Defense is correct, is seems they would indeed be able to, in effect, "demand" ID's (administrative request = demand). I'll keep looking for the davis case.
posted by cohappy at 5:06 PM on June 9, 2003

Dammit... the defense I'm referring to in "The defense also makes a distinction" in the second to last paragraph is the defense in the gilmore case, not Florida v Royer.
posted by cohappy at 5:09 PM on June 9, 2003

Ignatius: I didn't get your point , tought you were saying "this is America so if you don't think like me then fuck you" which irritates me deeply because of what appeared to me as a connection between the American dream of freedom and the attitude "fuck you because you're different" which is a plague.
posted by elpapacito at 6:33 PM on June 9, 2003

That's because I didn't get the point across well. :)

"fuck you because you're different"

I can't stand that attitude, though I was basically saying "if you think 'fuck you because you're different' than fuck you." Glad to clear that up.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:34 PM on June 9, 2003

He'll never win, but I wish him well. I cringe every time I have to present ID - you just aren't free if someone can always keep tabs on you. Air travel is frustrating and uncomfortable to begin with; when you add young studs in camofluage wielding automatic weapons, long lines through unpredictable security scanners, bored functionaries with the power to make your life miserable, and security so pathetic I think of a new way to sneak through it every time I fly, it's just oppressive and unhappy and not something I would do if I had a choice about it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:45 PM on June 9, 2003

I still keep coming back to the point that using ID to confirm your identity to a profiling system is mathematically unsound. Over-reliance on the CAPPS system adds no security to the system; indeed, it can be shown that security is actually weaker with CAPPS in place than without.

That said, I don't understand why the government is so adamantly protecting a system so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be fixed. There is no fix for CAPPS; there is no implementation trick, no administrative quirk that once ironed out will allow it to operate to its claimed efficacy. It's just not in the math; the proof of profiling's weaknesses is independent of the details of that system.

I cannot help but think that the real purpose behind demands for ID is not security, but tracking the movements of citizens within the US-- which I think even the Supreme Court as it now sits would not hesitate to declare unconstitutional. I really hate finding myself out on this extreme edge of opinion, but I have no other recourse in this matter. Nothing else makes any logical sense.
posted by Cerebus at 10:01 PM on June 9, 2003

There is NO purpose for checking IDs beyond the airlines' desire to preserve the non-transferability of their haphazardly-priced tickets. None. Bag checks, random searches could all be conducted without any need for identification.

And this original greed motivation has permeated other sectors even though it has no basis in security. At buildings here in DC where I know the guards well enough to get a straight answer, I have asked them, "Why do you check IDs? You don't check against a list, you don't check to see if they are flagged. You just check them. You are, essentially, proving I can drive." On several occasions they have admitted there is NO reason to check them. They don't know why they do, they've just been told to check them.

I certainly some suit like this will succeed. I do not understand those of you who believe the illusion of security is worth anything without the reality.
posted by umberto at 10:54 PM on June 9, 2003

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