You are no longer free to move about the country

Radley Balko of posted this Tampa news channel's cheerful puff piece about a federal check point set up at a Greyhound bus station to pretend to stop terrorists, as well as nab unregistered immigrants, drug dealers, and cash smugglers.

It's not difficult to envision the day where anyone wishing to take mass transportation in this country will have to first submit to a government checkpoint, show ID, and answer questions about any excess cash, prescription medication, or any other items in his possession the government deems suspicious. If and when that happens, freedom of movement will essentially be dead. But it won't happen overnight. It'll happen incrementally. And each increment will, when taken in isolation, appear to some to be perfectly reasonable.
You are no longer free to move about the country (Via @jackshafer)


  1. Wasn’t freedom of movement one of the key things that separated us in the democratic countries from the Soviet Bloc? I was told that all my life during the Cold War. Y’know, the Berlin Wall and all that? That stupid Reagan soundbite that Republicans throw around because that’s what stopped communism dead in it tracks?

    1. No, freedom didn’t separate us from the communists. It was the lack of wealthy people in the communist countries.

      What do they know that we don’t know. How much worse do they mean to treat us. When we are starving in the streets will this kind of repression keep the wealthy safe?

  2. They’re going to have to redub that scene in “Red October”:

    Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?

    Captain Ramius: No.

    Capt. Vasili Borodin: No?

    Captain Ramius: No travel from state to state.

    Capt. Vasili Borodin: Well then, perhaps I will pass on the recreational vehicle.

  3. no one is going to take our liberties, we will surrender them willingly. Very sad to be living in a declining nation.
    And we’re doing it because “they” hate freedom. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  4. I just went down to NYC from Canada a couple of weeks ago and had to go through two checkpoints: state troopers, border guards, homeland security, unidentified parties. The checkpoints were in the middle of the state, hours from the border. The US is now a police state. I will try to avoid from now on.

  5. This world is becoming more and more like 1984 and Minority Report.

    @Frankieboy, so true! Taking away presonal freedoms is done all in the name of freedom. My head hurts now.

  6. 2 years ago I traveled from Boston to New York City on the Chinatown bus, which is a super cheap ($15!) but surprisingly nice way to travel. There was no security at the bus station in Boston and we were dropped off on the street in Chinatown in NYC.

    A few days later I took a Greyhound bus from NYC to Scranton, PA. At the Port Authority bus station, while waiting to board the bus, security (not sure if they were Port Authority police, TSA, Greyhound people, or what) made everyone line up and then they called us one at a time to come to a table at the front to have our carry-on bags searched in full view of the whole crowd.

    Then we boarded the bus and they put our non-x-rayed, non-searched, possibly bomb-filled suitcases in the baggage compartment of the bus. I was astounded, to say the least.

    1. The gestapo at the Memphis Greyhound station did that to me a few years ago, shortly after the Aqua Teen Hunger Force LED sign thing happened in Boston… had everybody get up in a line while a security guard stole mini-plier keychains due to the “weapon” of a 1″ blade, etc… going through everyone’s carry-on by hand in front of everyone. Some poor kid who tried to leave the station got tackled, illegally searched, and arrested for weed.

      For our safety. And our precious freedoms. Land of the brave… etc…

  7. This is what I think everytime someone is OK with the patdowns–Just wait until they are stopping all vehicles entering major cities just in case you have a car bomb. Take that terrorists!

  8. Yeah, as @tad604 said, Reason sometimes gets pretty nutty, but this excerpt from Balko is spot-on. Government and other institutions will keep probing at what we find acceptable, gradually eroding our freedoms until we wake up and wonder what the fuck happened.

  9. Chuck Lawrence
    Not a Shill, Honest!

    But on a different note . . .

    “Homeland Security”

    Seriously? Do these terms not sound ominous as hell to the average person? They don’t see the burgeoning police state? What’s wrong with these people?

    1. That acronym made me think of V.E.N.O.M…

      Now for the rest of the world to wake up and give US flight requirements the middle finger…

  10. This is blatantly unconstitutional; and I hope someone challenges it in court.

    Carroll v. United States (1925) – “Travelers may be so stopped in crossing an international boundary because of national self protection reasonably requiring one entering the country to identify himself as entitled to come in, and his belongings as effects which may be lawfully brought in. But those lawfully within the country, entitled to use the public highways, have a right to free passage without interruption or search unless there is known to a competent official authorized to search, probable cause for believing that their vehicles are carrying contraband or illegal merchandise.”

    Kent v. Dulles (1958) – “The right to travel is a part of the ‘liberty’ of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment”

    Almeida-Sanchez v. United States (1973) – “Whatever the permissible scope of intrusiveness of a routine border search might be, searches of this kind may in certain circumstances take place not only at the border itself, but at its functional equivalents as well. For example, searches at an established station near the border, at a point marking the confluence of two or more roads that extend from the border, might be functional equivalents of border searches. For another example, a search of the passengers and cargo of an airplane arriving at a St. Louis airport after a nonstop flight from Mexico City would clearly be the functional equivalent of a border search. But the search of [an] automobile by a roving patrol, on a California road that lies at all points at least 20 miles north of the Mexican border, was of a wholly different sort. In the absence of probable cause or consent, that search violated the [driver’s] Fourth Amendment right to be free of ‘unreasonable searches and seizures.'”

    United States v. Ortiz (1975) – “[T]he central concern of the Fourth Amendment is to protect liberty and privacy from arbitrary and oppressive interference by government officials. … A search, even of an automobile, is a substantial invasion of privacy. To protect that privacy from official arbitrariness, the Court always has regarded probable cause as the minimum requirement for a lawful search. … We therefore … hold that at traffic checkpoints removed from the border and its functional equivalents, officers may not search private vehicles without consent or probable cause.”

    United States v. Place (1983) – “We have affirmed that a person possesses a privacy interest in the contents of personal luggage that is protected by the Fourth Amendment.”

    City of Indianapolis et al. v. Edmond et al. (2000) – “The Fourth Amendment requires that searches and seizures be reasonable. A search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. … [T]he Fourth Amendment would almost certainly permit an appropriately tailored roadblock set up to thwart an imminent terrorist attack or to catch a dangerous criminal who is likely to flee by way of a particular route. … The exigencies created by these scenarios are far removed from the circumstances under which authorities might simply stop cars as a matter of course to see if there just happens to be a felon leaving the jurisdiction.”

    1. I like the point you make and your numerous citations to legal authority. Unfortunately, the doom of any court challenge to this practice lies in the language used in Edmond.

      One of the rules stated in Edmond is that the Fourth Amendment permits an appropriately tailored roadblock set up to thwart an imminent terrorist attack.

      In the era of the Roberts Court, the ever present Homeland Security Terror Alert Level, and the entrapment of American-born Muslims in fabricated FBI terrorist stings, government attorneys will eventually convince the Court that a terrorist attack is always imminent. Therefore, the government will always be allowed to set up nicely organized road blocks in the name of stopping terrorists. The fact that the roadblocks will be used to scan for other activities will be irrelevant because the benevolent purpose of the roadblocks (i.e. catching terrorists) will always be a constitutional excuse for having them.

      While I don’t morally agree with the above stated analysis and conclusion, the cold, hard truth is that both will come to pass. Kiss your freedom of movement goodbye, because the Supreme Court hasn’t been in the business of protecting individual rights for quite some time.

      We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Oh, and the hugely successful government power grabs that come along when we are suffering from said fear.

    2. “This is blatantly unconstitutional”

      that hasn’t mattered in quite a while.

      “I hope someone challenges it in court.”

      awesome, maybe in 2 years, IF the court decides to hear the case, we can get this corrected.

      1. “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.” – Judge Learned Hand (1944)

        If it no longer matters to the government whether or not what they are doing is constitutional, it’s because “We the People” no longer care. If “We the People” would stand up for our rights instead of cowering in fear, we could make the Constitution matter again. But, after 9/11, I guess liberty did die in the hearts of the men and women of America.

        July 4, 1776 – September 11, 2001

        Am I a fool to live in hope that someday in my lifetime there will be a resurrection of American liberty? Probably. But I’m not sure I can go on living without something to hope for. So, I guess I’ll be the fool who continues to shout, “This is blatantly unconstitutional!” even though no one seems to care anymore. [sigh]

  11. Why has nobody pointed out that this sort of thing only becomes necessary as travel becomes more exclusive, for instance, in a world preparing to run out of fuel to sell to poor people.

  12. Glad to see the US is becoming the old USSR with regards to travel. What next, restrictions on where you can live like in the USSR and China? There the reason was/is state security, here the reason is, drumroll, state security.

    But as long as I’m safe from the scary terrorists I’ll happily become a slave.

  13. I’m done arguing the point.

    I used to say that I was being legislated out of existence.

    I don’t think I need to make my point anymore.

    Now it is happening to everyone else, too.

    I used to get into long drawn out arguments about how unamerican the government had become again. (Reagan era) People thought I was a freak, or weirdo.

    I hate to admit that the survivalists could be even partially right, but I can’t really argue with them about certain subjects. It would be hypocrisy on my part.

  14. There hasn’t been freedom of movement in this country in years!

    I have, like 10 years ago, been forced through a checkpoint at a Greyhound station and made to produce id. All of the luggage on that bus was taken out and sniffed by drug dogs. All male passengers were forced to show id. This was in Memphis and apparently was “normal procedure”.

    Of course, the freeways near our southern border (and NOT at them, I’m talking 50+ miles away) have checkpoints too- and they claim the authority to stop and search all vehicles and demand traveling papers from all persons.

    Freedom in this once great nation is only as free as people make it, and in the past couple of generations the mass of men have become complacent about it leaving those who stand up for our rights to be branded troublemakers and terrorists.

  15. It’s already happening.

    Three years ago I went with 11 other people to Slab City to celebrate New Years. On the way back, we were stopped at a tertiary border checkpoint, 80 miles north of the Mexican border, even though we’d never left the country. We were traveling in a private vehicle.

    They told us they had “probable cause” to search the bus, and ordered us off. We lined up in a row while watching them throw around our belongings. Eventually they ordered us inside and took our belts and wallets (and anything else in our pockets) before locking us in two cells, six in each.

    We were held for six hours in the middle of the night in an air conditioned cell in January, it was colder than it was outside, too cold to sleep, though we tried. Our bodies were shaking from combined cold and fatigue.

    They found one girl was a French citizen and removed her and her belongings from the group. They took her to a deportation facility and we never saw her again.

    Eventually they showed us two bags they claimed were filled with marijuana and mushrooms and told us we would be held until someone agreed to take the charge. Eventually one fellow, our driver, was arrested and taken to a county detention facility.

    We got out at four in the morning, drove to a quiet street, and slept. We’d meant to be halfway to SF already.

    The next morning was a flurry of phone calls: trying to find our friends and canceling friends. I was due to meet two friends that evening to start driving home to Portland the next day, but it would be at least 24 hours before the bus made it back to SF.

    Eventually we found the location of our driver and were able to post bail. My friends were able to front airfare for me and I was able to meet them by 10 in the evening, terribly shaken.

    All charges were eventually dropped, but what was the point?

  16. For anyone who made movie references; 1984, Minority Report, Red Dawn etc. I suggest you go and re-watch Children of Men. It’s horribly prescient.

  17. Anywhere within 150 miles of a maritime waterway is considered a border zone and your rights are adjusted accordingly. It’s been that way for 10 years or more.

  18. They say they won’t be there everyday, but they won’t say when they’ll be back.

    So if you see the bus police, just come back tomorrow. They’ll be gone by then.

  19. @sapere_aude: All of your caselaw dates from before 11 September 2001, the date that the Bill of Rights was repealed. It is no longer good law in today’s courts. begins with a reasonably good summary of current law, and observes that “the administrative search exception functions as an enormously broad license for the government to conduct searches free from constitutional limitation.”

    1. All of your caselaw dates from before 11 September 2001

      That’s because all of the relevant SCOTUS rulings on these issues occurred before 9/11. To the best of my knowledge (supported by a cursory FindLaw search) the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the constitutionality of these sorts of searches since 9/11. The only case that I’m aware of that even touches on these issues tangentially is Stafford Unified School District #1 et al. v. Redding (2009), which adheres to the principles set in the earlier precedents, but doesn’t directly address the issue of the specific type of searches described in the video above.

      So, as far as I’m concerned, the old precedents still govern unless and until the Supreme Court says differently. It is quite possible that if the Court had to rule on the constitutionality of these types of searches today, in our post-9/11 world, they would break with the earlier precedents and permit these sorts of intrusive searches. But, until they do, I stand by my argument that these searches are unconstitutional under existing case law.

      P.S. – Thanks for the link to that article. It does give an excellent summary of the case law on administrative searches.

  20. turn_self_off: What the ACLU omitted is that there is considerable caselaw that holds that international airports are “borders”, and so it’s arguable that anywhere within 100 miles of an international airport is also fair game.

  21. Not just mass transportation.

    The TSA and other feds set up a drive-through X-ray scanner on eastbound I-20 just outside Atlanta in September:

    “Mostly trucks” were being scanned; it was done at a weigh station. But it’s a proof of concept for any kind of highway checkpoint.

    So don’t think you’re off the hook from unreasonable searches because you travel in a private vehicle.

    I swear I am sounding like more and more of a libertarian nutjob conspiracy theorist every day, but Jesus Christ, you don’t get to detain, search, and question people as a condition of letting them go anywhere at all, and that seems to be the direction we’re heading in. You would think Bush was still president. What the hell, Obama?

    1. For some reason i have a suspicion that the time when US presidents had any say is long gone. During Bush jr, it was Cheney that was the real power broker. And i do wonder what kind of long term legacy he left behind in the various bureaucratic offices around.

      And hell. Since the midterm i would claim that US politics is in a deadlock, leaving said bureaucrats to run rampant.

      1. turn_self_off, frankly, I’ve been starting to think along the same lines.

        dequeued, come on, that’s totally unrealistic! We all know the real danger is bus terrorists with bombs set to blow if the bus goes under 50 mph. We must screen all bus passengers to ensure that they are not Dennis Hopper.

        (“But he wasn’t actually on the bus!”)

        SHUT UP, THAT ISN’T IMPORTANT! Why do you want the terrorists to win? If you don’t like it, don’t commute!

  22. “I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there’s trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can’t make a move without a form.”

    –Harry Tuttle, _Brazil_

  23. Extraordinary to read that this is happening in the US. I have spent the last few years in the Middle East, 2 of them in Saudi, and while they still have checkpoints on all roads out of Riyadh these are just used as an excuse to hassle unfortunate Bangladeshi or Pakistani drivers and for the most part are entirely for show now. Years ago you used to need papers to pass these checkpoints – things are better now but it seems that the US is just beginning to catch up with Riyadh in the 70s and 80s.

  24. Although i’m not a US citizen, being a subject of the UK, what you do we follow. And that scares the crap out of me. Your country had so much potential, but you have fallen under the thrall of power hungry, anti-intellectual, paranoid, money men. Their plan? who knows, but it’s not looking good for the freedoms of normal people. The path the US is on will only lead to Fascism.

    I only have one idea for you, it not the best solution, but here it is. Leave. Get out while you still can.
    We do (generally) like and welcome Americans over here, some of my best friends are american!

    As much as we bitch about the weather (have you seen what happens when it snows here), the ageing infrastructure, the French et al, we know what Fascism smells like. We have far right parties, but at least their out in the open about their plans (mostly getting rid of non-whites and non-Christians) and they don’t have much support. Hopefully we will see what happens over there and not duplicate your mistakes. Europe has tried Fascism on a few times now and it just doesn’t fit right.

    With out a sea-change in the US political system, the removal of corporate political influence and the mass of the population dragging themselves away from the ‘bread and circuses’ the USA is sunk.

    Get out while you still can.

    1. Seconded.

      I moved to Canada several years ago; I’m not wealthy or politically connected, I immigrated via a student visa. My whole experience has been wonderful. Unless you are the captain, there is nothing noble or worthwhile about sinking with the American ship.

    2. Thanks for the invite, I’m an American citizen living abroad who won’t be returning unless things change for the better, which unfortunately they don’t seem to be doing.

      However, you seem to be unaware that things in the UK are pretty bad, if not worse in some ways. For instance, the UK is a surveillance society.

      Also, did you not read about the kettling of protesting children in your country? The story was featured here on Boing Boing last week.

      And your country had x-ray body scanners in use before the US did, apparently with little or no outcry from citizens.

      I’ve also read about the mainstream press being perhaps worse than that of the US, which is really saying a lot.

      So, I don’t really understand how leaving the US for the UK is a good thing to do.

  25. Hey, come on!
    We need this to prevent the epidemic of bus-jackings across the country.
    All they have to do is hijack one bus, and they can knock over several mailboxes!!

  26. Thanks sapere_aude for the summary of relevant case law. I wish the news report had mentioned what illegal people/substances the searching turned up. I had thought that the country was moving towards a Soviet internal travel policy under the Bush administration. The Real ID act was an attempt to draft drivers’ licenses into use as internal air travel passports. I had hoped things would change with the new administration. It doesn’t seem to matter who we elect. Sigh.

  27. It seems to me that none of these searches are really about terrorists. I don’t think anyone is actually concerned about terrorists on buses (Speed aside). It’s clearly just meant to catch illegal immigrants and people with drugs – poor people and college students, the primary users of the bus these days.

    That’s why we hear about this stuff on the southern border only. There isn’t anything like this along the Canadian border, because no one cares if Canadians come here (why they do is beyond me – but depending on when you go, half of the cars in the parking lot in the more upscale shopping centers and malls in Western New York may have Ontario plates – no exaggeration). By the way, the Canadian border guards are the same as the US ones along this border – can be extremely unpleasant, but only if you’re in their target demographic for people likely to have drugs (basically, a young male – worse if you’re in a group of them).

    I also lived in Southern California and know about the checkpoints on the roads going to San Diego. One must consider, though, that there are still thousands upon thousands of illegals in SoCal, and plenty of drugs still make it up from Mexico (apparently – I wouldn’t know myself). That’s why I think ultimately the only thing these kinds of checkpoints are effective at catching are young males with dimebags, and the occasional illegal immigrant who isn’t smart enough to avoid checkpoints (like all the others who don’t have that problem) or who were desperate for some reason and didn’t have a choice but to go through the checkpoint.

    Basically, it’s completely worthless, they’re using the threat of terrorism to justify it (thus becoming terrorists themselves by scaring the population into submission), and utterly shameful to those of us who still care about what our country is supposed to stand for.

  28. Terrorists,unregistered immigrants, drug dealers, and cash smugglers are too smart to ride Greyhound,the ticket prices are outrageous! I wanted to travel to Denver from Phoenix and Greyhound (actually a third party does the route) quoted over $250.00 for a trip starting at 3am and ending at 10pm. I got a 1 and half hour flight for $135.00. Save your money bad guys, fly!

  29. The only thing different is that white christians are now going to be treated the same as brown people and non-christians.

    Pastor Niemoller’s lament comes to mind.

  30. It always seemed that the War on Terror was designed by and for the people who want so desperately to ‘win’ the War on Drugs.

    The fact the the majority of citizens have partaken in an illegal drug at some point in their lives and the shift in group mindset toward more liberal drug laws pushed them over the edge. So now everyone is a viable suspect and will be treated as such.

    Jerks! (ooops, that just made it worse.)

  31. And each increment will, when taken in isolation, appear to some to be perfectly reasonable.

    Looking at the Rapiscans and enhanced patdowns, I do not think this is even the case.

  32. The way things are now must far exceed the expectations of the terrorists in how much they thought they could cripple our democratic way of life as a free people. I would have to say that their victory is almost absolute.

    1. Actually, most terrorists care about things much closer to home than what happens to American people in American airports and on American buses.

  33. I moved out five years ago to a little place in Central Europe. It’s getting tougher and tougher to fly back for visits.

  34. Janet Napolitano recently said that this is going to happen:

    “I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”

    I can’t wait till we have machine-gun cops, just like in Mexico.

  35. Since Dubya was so sure that THEY hate us for our freedoms, the solution was “obvious”:

    Ubiquitous RFID readers on highways (read the RFID tags in your tires) and your Toll Pass transponders, probably in your tennis shoes and your bicycle too!
    “Red Light” Cameras read your license plate at every intersection.
    Checkpoints on every type of interstate mass transit.
    No freedoms, no terrorists, right?
    (But lots of money to be made solving “problems”!)

    The only solution: Open Source Designed RFID detectors/zappers.
    Then at least you can walk in peace.

    Malo Periculosam Libertatem Quam

  36. “It’ll happen incrementally. And each increment will, when taken in isolation, appear to some to be perfectly reasonable.”

    Isn’t that how we got to where we got today? And that’s assuming the people in power had good intentions at each step.

    Anyways, government programs usually start small, and grow over time into beasts as it grasps for more power. For example, the FDA, the income tax (started with one measly percent on high incomes), the FCC, the SEC, the Social Security (started as a program for war widows), the Fed, etc. It is sadly a natural consequence of the incentives for politicians and bureaucrats.

  37. I’m guessing one way that they are going to get it this way is by calling anyone opposed to it ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘undemocratic’. No. Patriotism is dead, or at least extremely hard to find. It has been twisted and molded to fit the government’s needs. Its one way the Republicans passed so many of their idiotic bills and laws. One reason that we put up with flawed security at airports. One way that the government can manipulate us- manipulate, not control. So make up your mind, and think before you act, speak, vote, decide.

    i may be opinionated, but i am free.
    are you?

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