Thursday, November 18, 2004

Did Supremes embolden TSA?

Perhaps the Supreme Court emboldened the TSA to order Amtrak personnel, starting November 1, 2004, to randomly check IDs on board trains. I'm thinking back to this June 2004 story:
The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a state law that makes it a crime to
refuse to tell the police one's name when stopped for suspicious behavior.
Or is it possible that the Supremes now would have to throw out the TSA Amtrak directive as unconstitutional under the fourth amendment, because there's no supicious behavior test, just random checks?

This Amtrak mess should be a cause celibre for the Libertarian Party, but they're strangely silent on the issue.

Amtrak random ID checks: Outrage, and finally, press notice

The day after my father's passing, I was made further distraught by being randomly selected to produce I.D. "or else" on board Amtrak, on a short trip between Oakland and Santa Clara. I'm glad my father didn't live to see the United States impose the sort of Communist-state "your papers please" confrontation that typifies many bad old movies, and is precisely the sort of thing he enlisted in the Army, to fight in WWII and Korea, in order to prevent.

My anger was compounded by discovering that the TSA directive that implemented the random checks was secret, and the further the realization that the press had ignored the story, and continued to do so.

I took two steps. First, I posted to an Internet newsgroup, ba.transportation, where rail advocates supposedly congregate. There, Richard Silver, executive director of RailPAC, the Rail Passenger Association of California, said that my concerns meant I was being more anal than he was. In other words, what's my problem with a little more security?

The black-helicopter crowd at ba.transportation then began to rail against FasTrak, having to produce I.D. when checking in at the airport, or when buying Amtrak tickets in the station, for that matter. But a FasTrak transponder can be placed in a provided mylar bag to avoid detection outside of a toll plaza. And everyone understands why the airlines are checking all I.D. What I want to understand is why random checks on Amtrak make us safer, and exactly why catching bad guys on Amtrak is as important as it is on board airliners. Sorry, the TSA directive is secret. How about a little discussion, debate, discourse? At least the discussion at ba.transportation has continued for several days.

Next, I sent email to Dave Farber's Interesting People mailing list, where a discussion about secret TSA directives was already underway. Dave found my email interesting and posted it on November 16.

Lo and behold, on November 17, the Associated Press runs a story about the random ID checks on Amtrak.

I'm appalled at any passenger association which itself is not appalled by this new infringement on the fourth amendment (and the negative impact it will have on rail ridership), and to the traditional "fourth estate" for missing one of the biggest civil liberties stories of the year, until (apparently) a lone blogger beat them to it.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Picking up the pieces

I'm not even talking at all about the presidential race. Roy Nakadegawa's defeat by Bob Franklin for the BART District 3 seat is a blow for quality public transportation in Berkeley. Franklin, now certainly beholden to the unions who financed much of his campaign, will be distracted carrying their water into upcoming bargaining talks. Meanwhile, the initiative to charge for all parking at Berkeley BART stations will be fully shelved. About the best thing I can say is that the whole experience made me sit up and look around for more resources regarding disclosure of local campaign financing. Here's one I learned about this weekend at Bloggercon III. Unfortunately, it only delves down into the U.S. Congressional races -- no more local than that. (You can query the data they do have by zip code, which is fascinating.)

Now, imagine an army of bloggers, posting all the financing data for all the races in local districts everywhere, much as I did in the BART District 3 race. Chris Nolan thinks it's an interesting idea. So does Staci Kramer of the Online Journalism Review. (Both of whom I talked to at Bloggercon.)

With few newspapers publishing any campaign contribution data, and practically no one bothering to interpret the data so you know (as I attempted to communicate) what the data means, this is fertile ground for bloggers to cultivate, maybe even as a source of income.