Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Further erosion of freedom in the name of "security"

A few years ago I flew a small airplane into Avey airport in Washington state, which has the interesting property of straddling the US-Canadian border. I flew in from the south, landing to the north, and thus crossed the border halfway through my landing roll. There is a street adjacent to the airfield, with a border station on it. I taxied back to the midpoint of the runway where there is an area to park, shut down the airplane and climbed out. A border patrol agent was crossing the street from the crossing, so I waved him down and asked him what formalities were needed.

Border Patrol Agent: Did you fly from the US?
Me: Yes
BPA: Are you landing anywhere outside of the US?
Me: Other than rolling down the runway, no.
BPA: When you take off, are you going back to the US?
Me: Yes
BPA: Then I can't even talk to you. [I presume he meant in an official capacity, rather than on a personal level]

And off I went. What a great experience, and it reminded me of one of the great freedoms we enjoy in the United States: the right to be left alone. Absent a warrant or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, the government cannot stop you, question you, ask for papers, or otherwise make you justify anything you are doing. It's something we largely take for granted. In many other countries, one must endure random roadblocks, identity paper checks, and other arbitrary intrusions at the whim of the government, but not here.

Then this morning I saw a story in the newspaper about checks that the border patrol is now conducting spot checks on ferries in the San Juan Islands. The San Juans are up near the Canadian border, and conduct international runs from Canada to the US, so on those runs it is entirely appropriate for the border patrol to do more or less whatever border enforcement it deems necessary.

But what is insidious about the new spot checks is that they are being conducted on routes which are entirely domestic - in other words, where there is no border being crossed and where the Border Patrol has no jurisdiction. The CBP even acknowledges as much: they acknowledge that they cannot do anything when a person refuses to answer their questions, but I suppose that enough people are either not aware of their rights or too timid to stand up to people in uniform, and as a result the net effect is that they get cooperation. Nevertheless, these people are detained for a period of time, and license plate numbers are run, which amounts in my opinion to illegal domestic surveillance and illegal detention.

This is, of course, being done in the name of "national security" and "anti-terrorism." Ahh, the evils that can be justified by those words. We should never let our fears lead us into abdicating our rights, for if we do then we have proven that we don't deserve those rights. It is a slippery slope.

Adding insult to injury, this program is leading not to the arrest of terrorists, which would at least mitigate (although not excuse!) this encroachment on our freedom, but rather to the arrest of illegal aliens. I have no problem with arresting illegal aliens, they are breaking the law and do not deserve sanctuary for having done so. But to trample our civil rights in the name of security as a ruse for over aggressive enforcement of immigration rules should shock every American.

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