July 06, 2003

OSCon, day 0

07/06, 7:25am
OSCon Day 0

It being 3 hours from my time zone, I woke up rather early. I took the opportunity to write a letter to the Transportation Security Administration. I have no illusions that I'll receive an intelligent response from a real person, however, I have included the entire note below for your edification. Please note that I put a great deal of time and thought into this, and that it is something that I feel very passionately about. Not that I think it's a great or eloquent note, by any means, but if you have any desire to share all or part of it with anyone else, please feel free to do so. ie, I explicitly place this in the public domain, and heartily encourage you to send it on to your congress critter, if my efforts can in any way help in the fight against the police state that we appear to be slipping into.


Date: Sunday, July 6, 10:27:35 PDT
To: TellTSA@tsa.dot.gov <Transportation Security Administration>
From: Rich Bowen <rbowen at rcbowen dot com>

I was hoping that you could explain some things to me, since they seem
not only illogical, but illegal.

First, I am a US citizen. I pay my taxes. I have no criminal record. I
have a good job, own property, drive an American car, and enjoy
baseball. I have never hijacked an airplane, robbed a bank, cheated on
my taxes, or gone fishing without a license. In short, I'm one of the
good guys.

When I arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a conference at which I am
speaking, in the hopes of promoting technology and the economy, I was
rather startled to discover that the lock on my suitcase had been
forced, and that my things had been rifled through. I was even more
startled to find a note inside, not from a thief, but from the Federal
Government of the United States of America, saying that this action had
been taken "to protect you and your fellow passengers."

Thus, I have a few questions.

First, doesn't the constitution of the USA *specifically* protect us
from this sort of thing? Something about unlawful search? Something
about obtaining a warrant before entering on personal property and
conducting a search? Something about probable cause? What I'm confused
about here is, if this search is in order to protect the American way of
life, isn't it a contradiction if, at the same time, it violates the
rights vouchsafed for me by the founding fathers of that same nation?
Perhaps you can help me reconcile that contradiction in a way that
doesn't make Thomas Jefferson and John Adams look like senile old men
when they talk about inalienable freedoms and the preeminence of freedom
over safety.

Secondly, I'd like to understand specifically what way you enhanced
national security by destroying my personal property, violating my
privacy, and disrupting my well-ordered suitcase. I, for one, feel *far*
less secure traveling than I did 2 years ago. I find that, every time i
travel, I am in dread, not of terrorists, but of the officious "safety"
folks who will hassle me, embarrass me, deny me basic human dignity, and
treat me as though I had already been determined to be a criminal. On
the day of the terrible attacks on our nation, my president, who,
incidentally, I did vote for, told me that we were not going to give in
to the fear that the terrorists wanted to place in our hearts. And yet,
every time I travel, it is evident that we live in a culture of terror -
terror imposed by Mr. Ashcroft, by the TSA, and by other organizations
purportedly for my protection and safety.

Third, I would like your personal assurance that nothing in my suitcase
was stolen or tampered with. I found that certain items that I would
have expected to be tampered with, such as my camping knife, were not,
but I have not yet had an opportunity to do a complete inventory. (And,
lest you ask why I am carrying a 4-inch lock blade hunting knife when I
travel, I should assure you, with full confidence that the
above-mentioned John Adams would stand behind me 100% in my assertion,
that it is none of your business.)

I have traveled all over the world, throughout Europe, Africa, and
South America, and I have never, *ever*, been treated as discourteously
as I have been by the staff of your organization. I deeply resent the
implication that every one of the passengers is a crime waiting to
happen. The concept of being innocent until proven - or even justly
suspected of being - guilty is utterly discarded, and every passenger is
treated as though they are the ones causing the problem, rather than
being the very people that are traveling, and thus boosting the economy
that the terrorists attempted to destroy. These techniques serve to
humiliate us, rob us of dignity, and make us afraid to travel, or at
least to find it distasteful. Yet, at the same time, it is not clear
that these method do anything to provide real protection from actual

While I recognize that most of the residents of our great nation grew up
in a dream world where there was no terrorist activity against us, the
rest of the world has always been aware of terrorism, and has taken
measures to prevent it, without placing their people in a police state.
You might take some lessons from Israel, or from any one of the European
nations who have been faced with this threat for decades. While a
certain amount of overreaction is, of course, very normal, it is crucial
that we remember what we are protecting. If we have to fundamentally
that we remember what we are protecting. If we have to fundamentally
alter the American way of life in the name of protecting the American
way of life, surely something precious is being lost.

Thanks for listening to my comments. I look forward to further dialog
with you, and sincerely hope that I receive more than a token form
letter response. I'm not merely trying to be antagonistic. I deeply love
my nation, and I am appalled and saddened by the things that are being
done to it in the name of national security. And, I firmly believe, John
Adams (who, as you may have guessed, is a hero of mine) would be also.

Rich Bowen - rbowen@rcbowen.com
Security Analyst and Linux System Administrator - Systems.Design Group
HTTPd Documentation Team , Apache Software Foundation

Posted by rbowen at July 6, 2003 07:25 AM | TrackBack

this should go to the White House - I have similar experience with more damages. Every flight. Same feelings.


Posted by: George on July 15, 2003 06:48 PM

What's frightening to me is that the only time I have ever noticed that someone had gone through my luggage was on my way into Moscow in 1989.

Maybe the TSA should start calling itself the "Committee for State Security". (That's the english translation of the source of the acronym "KGB", for those of you playing at home.)

Posted by: Matt on July 15, 2003 06:58 PM

did you ever get any reponse on this?

Posted by: Rodent of Unusual Size on December 22, 2003 08:55 AM

Nope, not a peep. Not that I particularly expected any response, but at least a courtesy "we got your note" would have been nice.

Gee, such efficiency makes me feel really safe.

Posted by: DrBacchus on December 22, 2003 10:21 AM
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