Beyond the Cusp

April 17, 2013

Another Visit to the Liberty vs. Security Debate

No article on this subject can avoid quoting one of the numerous variations on the Benjamin Franklin quote where he said something close to these reputed words, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” Often simply quoting Ben Franklin is enough to consider the discussion closed, but where does one draw the line allowing for the most amounts of freedoms and liberties while also ensuring comfortable levels of security. This is where the normal discussion debates the different segments which governments utilize in order to provide security and in this information and computerized age the line can be crucial and must not be drawn with any lack of clarity. The advent of miniaturization, high powered optics, computerized facial recognition software, super-sensitive microphones, spy satellites capable of reading newsprint from orbit, thermal imaging which can “see” through walls, laser sound detectors which can monitor conversations in a room by measuring the slightest vibrations of the glass in a window, abilities to activate cell phones in order to use the camera and microphone to monitor the room were the phone sits, electronic data surveillance capabilities and processing with untold capabilities, universal electronic monitoring capabilities, and other items which easily have the ability to make privacy a quaint old idea whose time has long passed. The majority of the capabilities mentioned above have existed and been utilized by the majority of governments in the industrial world since the middle 1980s or the early 1990s at the latest. The capabilities available to current government agencies leave the citizenry absolutely no place to hide and their lack of knowledge of any person of interest that is being monitored could only be explained by human error. For those who might propose that there are limits on the government spying on their own citizens, I am happy to report that you are correct in your belief that laws guard the individual against unofficial warrantless searches and data gathering. Unfortunately, for quite a while now there has been a treaty between the English speaking nations of Canada, Britain, United States and Australia concerning this problem. By this treaty a list of persons of interest from each country is presented to the other nations who in turn request surveillance on these individuals of their home country by one or more of the other countries. Often each of the member countries would request different set of requests thus should one request be discovered the rest of the investigation would remain undisturbed. The home country then collects the information and passes the raw data which is processed by the foreign nation. Once the data has been organized and processed it is returned to the home country which wished to observe one of their citizens.

The one reassuring item is the ability that governments have displayed for incompetence and missing the forest for the trees. I would not want my privacy or worse to depend on the government’s incompetence but with the investigatory powers available to the government with all the modern data processing and state of the art sensors, no individual is beyond the government’s ability to be able to tell you all of your most guarded secrets and even the smallest of facts no matter how mundane and inconsequential. With all the technical abilities available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies it is remarkable that any crime is able to be committed without the authorities lying in wait before the crime has been committed and nabbing the lawbreaker in the midst of the crime. About the only thing lacking for the government to attempt to emulate the movie “Minority Report” are the psychics wired up to a computer in the basement of the FBI future crimes division. The government is currently gathering agreements with credit card companies, banks, credit unions, communications companies, utility providers and so much more to get them to allow the government to splice into their data banks and use all the data they have gathered on anybody without any need to bother any officials for permission. This includes the coming smart meters measuring electricity and in the near future smart grid appliances which will be capable of reporting each individual appliance and its use of power. This will also allow remote control of these appliances, remote setting of thermostats on heating and airconditioning units, even recording the number of times the power to the refrigerator increased by the small amount that turning on the light causes when you open the door. So many items which were purely science fiction a few decades ago are now or soon to be possible to government in order to inspect every tiny bit of minutia concerning your life.

Benjamin Franklin would become apoplectic if he was transported to our modern world. Once he realized the powers to intrude into the citizens’ private life by government he would likely turn hermit and remove all electronic devices from his residence. Paranoid delusions would be the likely psychological diagnosis of Ben Franklin’s mental breakdown as he was taken away babbling something about liberty has died in his dear loved country of America. The debate of how much liberty or freedoms we might compromise upon to grant government the necessary powers to make us more safe is mute and no longer necessary. We no longer have any liberties or freedoms against government interference and monitoring of every iota of our existences to trade away for security. The real problem is that even with total knowledge at their fingertips the government is still incapable of providing us with absolute security. Yesterday’s bombing in Boston stands as a case in point. About the only power the government does not possess is to be able to read your mind and know your intent, though there is a partnership between the government and Google working on understanding how the mind thinks and developing AI (Artificial Intelligence) where the government will permit Google complete access to the vast majority of their collected data collected by government agencies such as the IRS, Census Bureau, and many others at all levels of government, Federal, State, County, Township and City. They are gaining permission from all levels of governments around the nation with promises of providing better services and other benefits from this research. The amounts of data mining being accomplished by government at all levels is beyond imagination and the lack of security in our persons, houses, papers, and effects has dwindled out of existence and with it our rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment which reads;

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Liberties and Freedoms as envisioned by the Founding Fathers have evaporated before the heat of advancing technologies. There is virtually nothing which can be considered beyond the government’s ability to know if they are persistent and bring all of their capabilities to bear. The only hopes we have is to retain our protections against having such information from being used against us in a court of law. Beyond that we are likely fighting a losing battle. Our hopes for security of our privacy are now relegated to the whims of government bureaucrats and the officers of the government. Should this make you feel uneasy and raise your levels of concern then you probably have a desire to some level of privacy from the encroaching eyes, ears and sensors of government. It is not so much that we the people have surrendered our liberties, freedoms, and privacies as much as it is the government’s power to compromise these rights have become overtly formidable. How we regain the upper hand in this struggle is beyond me but that does not mean it is not an effort worth taking. If we can rescue even the slightest measure of our eviscerated privacies then any effort expended was worth the struggle.

Beyond the Cusp

June 28, 2012

A Morning With the TSA

Found myself in the position of having absolutely no other option than to fly to my destination. Normally I will go to almost any extreme to avoid airports with the new security regulations and the accompanying myriad of other inconveniences. Unfortunately, this trip’s itinerary was planned by somebody else leaving me little choice. My preparations for my encounter with some of the elite federal security personnel who stand to safeguard our skies from any miscreant or other causers of mayhem began with my selection of T-shirt. I optioned into a midrange blue T-shirt with well worn sports logo over wearing my T-shirts with Hebrew lettering or any of my ones with a logo and the words, “Guns & Moses” emblazoned across the front. I suspected such a logo would have immediately caused me hours upon hours trying to explain that the logo was a joke play on words of the band Guns & Roses and was not some political expression or other threat of any kind. I did make the error of wearing my tennis shoes and later realized that, no matter the appearance, I really should have simply left on my slippers. Well, next time I’ll know.


Then came the drive across town to the airport at some inhumanly early hour and still there was traffic. I thought I lived in a sleepy little town and apparently it has had some growing pains, one being the roads have not kept up with the traffic. I know, tell you about it as this is the case almost everywhere. I often am amused at how nearly every city never seems able to build with future requirements in mind. It would cost less to do it big at the get go and would prevent that urban horror of closed lanes during rush hours. Enough about that as it could make an entire article on its own. Arriving at the airport we used the airport parking facility, there are only two from which to choose and one is open air and not patrolled or equipped with security of any sort, and the other where the service is advertised to be so fast that they claim to be loading your luggage before you finish closing your doors. After we lugged our luggage to the waiting area, we stood around for a little while until the shuttle arrived. Then check-in and on to “the line”, and I do mean the line, a line that appeared deceptively short giving off the impression of being six lines when in reality there were but two lines made up of three sections and a long interconnect linking them together.


I have had experience with these sort of lines before when I took my daughter to Disney World out in California. I have to give them credit for utilizing the Disney method of snaking the line back and forth and around and back around and some more snaking making an excessively long line appear to be rather short. Each time you approach what you believe is the front of the line to enter the inspection area you instead find the line circles around back to another snaking line similar to the one just navigated. With about five minutes till take-off we finally hit the inspection area where there were approximately six stations with each having two stages, one for the little trays that hold your shoes, wallet, keys, carry-on baggage, lap-top computer, and other sundry items and, most importantly, your belt. Then you shuffle along grabbing your jeans holding them up as your belt is being X-rayed for who knows what and they place you in the round chamber of death, or something like that. They have you stand with your feet exactly covering the yellow feet painted on the floor, which must be more difficult for people who are very short, and then you are ordered to raise your hands over your head. This immediately leaves one wondering whether their pants are about to slip down past their knees or can one hold their stomach distended for the duration. Then, if you appeared suspicious or if you are an attractive female you are pulled aside and at a minimum, given a closer look with the wand and more if determined necessary. As an older and not that attractive male, I got to go claim my belt and other items and get dressed all over again, well, at least my belt and shoes and at my age the shoes are a challenge. Then my only interaction with a member of the TSA arrived, other than meekly complying as being close to missing my flight, resistance was ill-advised.


This last individual did posses a disarming smile which hid his antagonistic attitude which I was soon to appreciate. Apparently one is supposed to virtually unpack all carry-on luggage and place any number of classes and variety of items loose in an additional tray. As it was explained to me it was this way as by taking everything out of your luggage and placing it in trays it saves the poor, overworked, wonderful, caring, intelligent and flustered people from needing to actually open your carry-on luggage and inspect anything that was even slightly questionable on the X-ray. Then, while this gentleman, and I use that word very generously, painstakingly slowly opened my carry-on pieces, all two of them, and began to rummage through them removing a few select items scowling with each extraction, he proceeded to give me my class on which items must be separated so as to facilitate his not having to do one stitch of actual work. Apparently, other than my laptop computer and a few toiletries, items which it is understandable that they might require individual attention, I also learned that anything made of plastic such as brushes and combs, anything made of metal such as jewelry and such, and anything that would cause an X-ray unit to either be blocked or cause the image to appear distorted or fuzzy, I am sure that these are highly technical terms with precise definitions and our vigilant TSA screeners are fully trained to detect these anomalies. This concluded my experience with some of those who our government has placed on the front lines to protect our skies from anybody with evil intent. I still have one question about the staffing, why are there twelve or so TSA employees at each screening location when only five are actually manning equipment or rotating the trays from the end of the line back to the front. Perhaps the rest of these TSA employees are supervisory and elite personnel who are capable of discerning evil intent simply by being in the relative presence of such miscreants. All I know is that seeing such overwhelming numbers that is such a relief, sort-of.


Beyond the Cusp


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