Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Your Secret's Safe With Me

When I was Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio, I'd regularly be asked by reporters about some new idea for data collection.
  • BMV wants more information about you before you can get a driver's license just to make sure you're a citizen.
  • The Highway Patrol is installing license plate scanners at toll booths on the Turnpike to look for stolen cars.
  • If you're charged with a misdemeanor the Sheriff's office will take a DNA sample.
  • Red light cameras on the streetcorners.
That sort of thing.
Every time, the government agency that announced the plan or the legislators who cooked it up would explain that it was fine.  Once they ran the information through the instant-check database and determined that there was no problem, it was automatically deleted.  And if it was saved, it was secure.  Nobody could ever get at it.  It could never be misused.  They'd never change the rules.  We were safe at absolutely no cost to freedom.
Every time, it was a lie. 
What we know about data, I explained to those reporters, was that sooner or later it will be abused, misused, and maybe lost.  And I would point to your social security number which was, by law, when the system was first set up, to be used only for purposes of the social security system; to the guy who walked off with some government agency's laptop containing the personnel files (including social security numbers) of 500,000 people, to the private business that lost 1.3 million customer accounts including credit card records, to  the . . . .  You get the point.
So when the guys at TSA tell me that they can take take naked pictures of passengers and
  1. nobody will ever be able to connect the picture to the face;
  2. the picture can't be saved, and
  3. it's all perfectly secure and totally safe,
I know that they're lying.  Even if they believe it.
Hell, at the Miami airport they were abused during a training session.  The victim of the abuse ended up charged with assault.  Gizmodo reports the story and includes the image that cannot be saved.
Need more evidence that pictures that will not be saved and cannot be saved are routinely saved.  Back to Gizmodo for 100 leaked body scans (although from a far less detailed system than the airports use).
Ah, but we're safer.
You know, take naked pictures of us.  Grope a bunch of us.  Keep us all safe.
Over at Popehat, Ken does the math by a thought experiment.  Imagine, he says, that pervert terrorists tell us they'll kill 450 Americans a year (roughly the capacity of a jumbo jet) unless we meet their demand, and we believe that they'll try.
America must select 25 million of its citizens per year. Those citizens must give complete strangers working for the government a brief look at a blurry naked picture of themselves. In addition, the complete strangers working for the government must select 1 million of the citizens — men, women, and children of all ages — for “special treatment.” That “special treatment” involves the one million lucky citizens submitting to the strangers from the government briefly running their hands over the citizens’ clothed breasts and genitals, in public, in front of a crowd of annoyed strangers. The whole experience takes about an hour of the citizens’ time every time they have to put up with it.
The question Ken asks, is whether we'd do it.
Of course, we wouldn't do it in response to the demand. That would be letting the terrorists win.
Instead, we'd do it because we want to.

Because Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.


  1. "I know that they're lying. Even if they believe it."

    Sorry, but the terrorists *have* won when this malapropism is uttered *by a lawyer*.

    Other than that, great post.

  2. I am mortified, abashed, ashamed. I really will have to start proofreading these things.

  3. You're forgiven. And it really was a great blog-post.

    Forgive me for leaving out the smiley.

  4. Great post Jeff. Now then - are you interested in defending me when I opt out of the scanner then tell the TSA JBT that I'll charge him with sexual assault if he fondles my wedding tackle?