In Brian Doherty's excellent article, "Suspected Terrorist" (August/September), he touches on one of the critical reasons why we should be concerned about privacy and data collection in the name of security: We cannot know the future uses for these systems, nor can we know the motives of the future users.
Our history of ignoring the rights of those on the fringe (Native Americans, blacks, and immigrants in the past or drug users today) shows that, as a society, the vast majority are at ease with minor oppression, as long as it does not affect them personally. So it is no surprise that the average person's reaction to increased identification requirements and database collection is indifferent at best. The average person truly believes that this information will not be used against him now or in the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, the infrastructure established by these measures could be used to suppress and punish dissent, or to terrorize some political minority at some future time. Today's mandatory employment data collection identifying employees by ethnic origin would take on a new and far more sinister character in the hands of a racist regime. If such a political system arose in this country, it would not need to take the radical step of collecting such information -- it's already there, ready for application. And by that time, it would be too late to do anything about it.
Congratulations to Brian Doherty on his extremely well-balanced piece about the growing concerns over lack of privacy in this country. Whatever the emotional arguments, it is very hard for libertarians to argue that information they have voluntarily provided to another is not the property of that other person or entity absent a contractual agreement to the contrary. The free market will then determine how many choices (if any) you have among such contracts. In any case, you can still live your life without providing such information to anyone -- in fact, your ancestors did. You will simply have chosen to live a 19th-century lifestyle.
Doherty is correct in pointing out the real fear from such databases is from a malevolent government. That fear is best addressed by controls on the government's legitimate span of control. Such databases do have legitimate uses, though: As a police officer, I can assure you that many genuine crimes cannot be effectively solved or prosecuted without them.
John Gilmore's quixotic battle with the airlines may be seen by many as a bit silly, but I'm pleased that someone has the balls to question authority. I offer this little tidbit for Gilmore's use -- Title 18, U.S. Code 241, Conspiracy Against Rights: "If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised same, they shall be fined under this Title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
If the government, as more than likely is the case, is acting in concert with the airlines, then the "two or more persons" threshold has been met. Additionally, the Fourth Amendment comes into play when a someone's "person, papers, and effects" are made insecure by means of an unreasonable search and seizure in order for him to travel or move about in a lawful and peaceful manner. After Gilmore loses his case, which he surely will, I suggest that the next time he flies he should duly present his driver's license when requested but wear a face mask while doing so.
K. Eugene Smith
Ronald Bailey's "Forcing Freedom" (August/September) and the ensuing debate from Christopher Hitchens, Christopher Preble, and Ivan Eland would deserve to be presented with reason's Most Important Article of the Year Award, if there were one. This is a major contribution to the idea of promoting international freedom while securing a more relaxed domestic policy for ourselves. I find it truly amazing that there is no such policy in effect at this time and wonder if politics had a hand in failing to continue the Reagan Doctrine mentioned by Bailey.
While I won't take issue with many of the good points raised in Christopher Preble's contribution to the debate on the relative merits of nation building, I will never quite grasp the mind-set of those who argue, as he appears to, that we should be circumspect in our attempts to "force democracy down the throats of the approximately 3 billion people who currently live under some other system of government."