Air Space

Jacob Appelbaum

The sunset on the flight from Reykjavík to Seattle is among air travel's most beautiful sights. Though Keflavík Airport is covered with clouds and rain, the people's spirits there are usually jovial.

The Iceland Air lounge has helpful staff—the welcome desk offers helpful tips on avoiding airport hassles and even provides free internet access. They'll help you read your boarding pass and even answer questions about all its confusing symbols. Should one ever be in the unfortunate position of having the dreaded 'SSSS' marked upon it, the help desk will suggest you wait until the exact boarding time before even approaching customs. They'll even apologize, as if they had any hand in the process.

And that was their recommendation to me, when I had it clearly printed on mine. It was not my lucky day.

I took the lounge employee's advice and left precisely when she suggested. My ticket was purchased by the Swedish government, which invited me to Stockholm to speak at its event on the internet and democratic change. It was upsetting that Sweden's government flew me over, and then the U.S. government—my government—used the Icelandic government to harass me on the way back. I have previously filed DHS requests for redress. Even after it promised to leave me alone, I am still subject to systemic harassment.

Outside of the lounge, the exit customs checkpoint is split into two parts. The first is an occasionally long and winding line, with a couple of officers stationed for passport stamping and various document-checking processes. They generally do not scan the passports handed to them by passengers. Their computers fully support every fancy security technology known to border control agents the world over. It is uncommon, as a light-skinned American or European passport holder, to even receive a single question when entering or exiting Iceland. After the passport is stamped, usually by request, passengers walk through a sliding glass door and into the second part of the customs checkpoint. This door is like a mantrap: it only opens when people approach it from one side. Once through, there is no turning back.

The second part of the checkpoint is another winding line that ends at a small podium. It is generally staffed by two women. The line splits in two thanks to the guidance of those little nylon barriers, familiar to anyone who has flown in the last decade. When a passenger reaches the podium, they pass their documents to whichever agent is free. The staff are quite pleasant, and they smile even when they notice a passenger that carries a mark of danger. It's the relaxed and calm Icelandic way; kind and friendly, with genuine warmth.

"You've been selected for security screening," the agent said to a passenger on the right side of the split. She handed the passenger a slip of paper marked with black text. The passenger was to follow the agent to an escalator, then escorted downstairs and out of sight. The passenger didn't question this process, and followed without comment. Three passengers in front of me passed the remaining agent without issue.

★ ★ ★

The system is not functional in the way that the security experts hoped it would be, and airports are often the worst in terms of pointless security theatrics. Millions of people the world over are constantly delayed, harassed and irradiated in the pursuit of some idea of security. Asking questions about the process is shut down by security agents, who claim they're just following orders. It is common to hear that secrecy is required for these processes, and that if one has to ask, one is not part of the privileged class that is welcome to an answer.

What would be fitting rewards for the people who design security checkpoints? The security industry has already received billions of dollars. Perhaps a Sisyphean reliving of their own work: but instead of pushing stones up hills, they must endure what millions of people now must undergo simply to move about the planet. After discussing this with other passengers, I often hear the joke that it wouldn't work unless they were also marked for extra special treatment. After discussing it with airline staff, they usually joke about a harsher punishment, but leave it unspecified.

Flight and detailed passenger information is sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for each passenger that flies to the U.S.; this happens even on a journey that has multiple stops in Europe. The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is the arm of the DHS makes that makes these specific selections according to the agent who examined my boarding pass. The 'SSSS' marking on a boarding pass is part of a largely undisclosed process, with little transparency. "For security," you'll be told, if you ask. Whose security? The security of the people who can't design a transparent security system that passes a giggle test, that's who.

This culture of secrecy, endemic to most government security, is part of the reason that it's such an abysmal failure when faced with real security threats. For example, there's an interesting de-synchronization issue between the customs checkpoint and the top of the escalators. The guards at the podium are not trained as well as customs agents to spot false documents. Even if they were, they do not check against any real-time systems—handing them a different passport or simply a modified boarding pass would be a trivial task. An electronic document checking system wouldn't really change the fundamental problems with this kind of security processing.

★ ★ ★

With a forty-person line snaking behind me and only a single agent now checking documents, I felt guilty knowing other passengers were about to be delayed. I stepped forward. The agent warmly greeted me, then took my ticket and passport. She looked for the tell of how I was to be handled—is this person a dangerous terrorist? Is this person a security threat of some kind?

My security agent informed me of my unlucky pick of the random security straws, handed me the same half-sheet of paper, and instructed me that I should follow her. As I left, the man behind me—a friendly fellow American—asked what I'd done. I wanted to express my discomfort about his unfamiliarity with the process. I wanted to ask what he hadn't been doing. I felt like a jerk. It felt like blame-shifting.

Instead, I apologized for the delay and said nothing more. I already know it's not random. I already know that it is connected to a decade-long wave of authoritarianism—the same thing happened the last time I flew from Iceland to the United States and on many prior occasions. It happens to thousands of people every day—probably tens of thousands.

Unlike on one earlier occasion, however, I was not traveling with a member of Icelandic parliament. My only witnesses were strangers. I felt a pang of stress as we headed to the escalator; every passenger waited behind us, in the now-unattended line, for someone to return and to tell them they could cross an invisible barrier. It was my second time being detained in Iceland, and after more than a dozen detentions at the request of the U.S. government, I have to admit that I've been conditioned to take things in stride. Some people don't take to it as well. It's entirely understandable.

About halfway down the escalator, the agent apologised and let me know that I'd have to wait in the room until someone from the airline came to retrieve me. She also let me know that I wouldn't be allowed to shop, and another security check was now required. I knew this was going to happen and so had bought the new Bjork album, Biophilia, in anticipation of this entire security process. I highly endorse it—the new album, that is.

The two security agents, who were usually at the podium, crossed paths in opposite directions as we left. My escort let the other agent know that the line was waiting for her return. She smiled at me, then hurried up the escalator to the station.

Now, pretend for a moment that someone stuck in this process is actually a terrorist who wants to cause harm. How well is this system really going to work? It isn't going to work at all. The TSA responds to yesterday's threats today and then they tell other agencies what to do. Iceland is getting the short end of the stick here, and I'm just getting the stick.

After I confirmed my familiarity with their security process, my agent asked if I'd experienced this previously. I said that I was very acquainted with the process behind the glass doors ahead. She knocked on the door and an Icelandic man in his fifties greeted us.

After the glass door, there's a 2m-high wall not unlike a cubicle. Inside is where all of the security agents wait to search incoming passengers. A sign explains that this area is off-limits for photography. I inquired if I might photograph inside, but they said that it wasn't possible because of the rules. I also asked if I might write a review, and they said that would be fine, but only outside of the security screening area.

Two women stood behind a desk to the right. Four additional tables, two on the left and two against the far wall, took up most of the cube's remaining space. The right-most table held a machine where gloves and other objects are sampled for traces of chemicals such as as explosives. I've often wondered if these machines might also detect the cocaine rumored to be on a substantial amount of American money. I've experienced similar machines raise the alarm over black and white film in the past —always a joy.

I'm quite fond of Iceland. Even their security screening and detention areas are well done. The people running this secondary detention were hands down the friendliest of all security agents that I've ever encountered. I mean that. They're nice people, very calm, and not at all heavy-handed or rude. It's easy to see how the detainment here differs from one in Canada or the United States; perhaps the difference is that the only American in the process is the Suspected Terrorist.

Icelandic people have long memories, and this specially-locked and spacious room was filled with friendly and familiar faces. I placed my carry-on luggage on a flat metal table against the back wall and took off my overcoat. I was given a thorough, professional frisking. It's always awkward to talk about sensitive and private body piercings with a total stranger. The older agent frisking me understood my request that he not be too rough around my nipples. Luckily for me, I'd met most of these security agents previously and in a strange way, I felt like they weren't strangers at all. Is it possible to find oneself in a kind of Stockholm syndrome without constant exposure to your captors? Friendly faces and nothing to hide: what isn't to like about the process?

We discussed the TSA-approved locks on my bag; it was hilarious, in a frustrating sort of way. These locks, widely sold in stores and online, can be opened two different ways. There's a combination tumbler and a standardized lock, for which the TSA issues skeleton keys to security agents. Unfortunately, it turns our that while the TSA trusts foreign airports enough to rely on them to catch suspected terrorists, it does not trust them enough to provide them with these keys.

I asked the security agent if they had the key to the lock on my suitcase, and pointed out that I didn't. The agent was baffled by the idea of a lock whose owner did not have a key: Sir, isn't that your suitcase? Why yes, it is mine, but I don't travel with the keys, which means that security screeners have access to my belongings and I do not. The TSA, after all, reserves the right to search your luggage outside of your presence. If it were not for the approach to security embodied by the locks, I might suffer some property damage at the whim of some government agent when I'm not looking.

The Icelandic security agent explained that they just solve this problem by only searching luggage with the passenger present—no need for anything more complicated.

Thinking about the keys is a reminder to me of the futility and blindness encompassing the security process. I could fashion a set of keys from my very own lock should I be so inclined, as could anyone with some extra time or money. I find this even stranger than the all too obvious markings on my ticket. Does the TSA trust the Icelandic security process or not?

After that confusion was cleared up, my luggage was efficiently searched.

★ ★ ★

One might guess that the TSA thinks that this keeps the locks safer and limits problems caused by their poor security decisions. But that guess implies that the TSA thinks rationally about security. While there's no question that there are people involved who are rational, the institution is less than the sum of its parts. It is not a person, and as a body it is incapable of thinking in a cohesive manner. It is ruled by emotions rather than rationality. It offers little to no transparency and little to no accountability. It is a race to the bottom. But most of all, it is the embodiment of the deepest American fears about security failures.

That sting, as it is said by Tarantino, "is pride fucking with you." This is wrong and everyone knows it. Why do we persist with this nonsense? Why does America bully everyone else into following our flawed and stupid lead?

I don't believe that any meaningful statistics about this are published by the DHS. Only a few numbers are released to the press, through anonymous sources. The DHS certainly won't tell you about their tactics, though I'd be happy to tell you all about them. Their secrecy is not safe with me.

Certainly not after the number of times they've denied me a lawyer or a bathroom, or had to listen to inferences about prison rape suffered by people in my position. That class act is the face of our nation, as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) wing of the DHS likes to say. Here, however, I was in another nation, and its face is quite different, even when executing the same useless gameplan.

★ ★ ★

I have to admit being happy to see another older gentleman I had spoken with during my last detainment in Iceland. He remembered me and we discussed how we'd met the last time. He asked how I'd been, and I was relieved to speak with him; he understood all too well the big picture behind what I was experiencing. Previously, he'd explained my situation to the aforementioned member of the Icelandic parliament. The layout of the detention room was explained to me again. He patted me on the back and was all smiles. I hope he gets a promotion.

After processing, one exits at the far left corner of the cube. There, a walkway guides travelers past twin bathrooms to the detention area—smooth sailing if a passenger makes it this far.

It is, hands down, the most welcoming detention area someone might visit, lacking any kind of nationalist propaganda. This is more than one can say about other airport detention facilities, such as Toronto Pearson's pre-clearance area. Operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Canadian soil, it's covered in flags and giant eagles. Everyone has a firearm.

I've met just a single nice person in half a dozen detainments in that airport. Those guys are also just following orders, but man, what a bunch of jerks. The small detention area in Reykjavík, by comparison, is downright relaxing. There are free bottles of water in a fridge, and usually a plate or four of cookies, snacks and condiments. There's even a nice little espresso machine, with a button that might produce an alright café latté. I've never managed to get this machine to make anything more than black coffee, but I admit that I didn't want to trouble the staff.

Frankly, I find it rather frustrating to do much other than apologize to them for how my country, the United States of America, imposes its own security politics onto an otherwise reasonable country.

I usually feel pretty depressed by the time I've collected a coffee and found a seat. On the other hand, one might see the entire process as not unlike a first-class lounge. High-priority people with some kind of Very Important Person status get to wait here. If you're in the room, you're somebody.

One of the people I met in the waiting area rationalized our mutual detention just so. I asked what he was "in for" and he laughed. It's gallows humor, but without the condemned man's relief at knowing the answer, or any information about a possible answer. He expressed concern about missing his flight and hoped that they would come to collect us soon. It was his first time.

I tried to comfort him by explaining the familiar process, only to feel horrible for rationalizing our experience in the framework of everything being OK. We were doing what we were told, we would make our flight, and we'd be fine when it was all over.

If anything, however, the process is proof of the opposite. Though we'd manage to leave the room, we could not leave the system that produced that room. In fact, the system that put us here wasn't in the process of ending at all. Quite the opposite—after boarding the plane, we'd fly towards at least two more checkpoints, more bag searches, more paperwork, and perhaps more frisking. We were headed straight into a modern surveillance state and were lucky to be getting free cookies at the halfway mark.

The friendly Icelandic security agent walked in my field of view. I asked him how his day was going, and invited him for a coffee. He declined the coffee but sat down between the two of us. Half a dozen other people, and a small child, were in the room. Each person passed the time in their own way. The agent and I had a brief chat. He asked how my Icelandic friends were, and if everything was alright with me. The angst-afflicted guy, sat closest to us, seemed dismayed at our conversation. I thanked the agent and he patted me on the back. Part of me feels entirely crushed by the kindness of people who are trapped in a machine that forces them to follow orders, even when they know better than the process. How could anyone be upset with them? They have a job, it's just part of their job, and they're doing the best that they possibly might hope to do. Part of me feels some hope that at least this process still has humans who think and feel—people who empathize and who are not overcome by the culture of fear.

When the Iceland Air representative came for us, the "first class" service continued. He called out for Seattle-bound passengers. We lined up in silence. The security agents lined the path to the door like a gauntlet, and as I exited the older gentleman reached out to shake my hand. I awkwardly fumbled my coffee and my bag around to free up a hand. He wished me good luck on my trip and with my life.

Holding up the line again, I thought.

Our little line made our way to the gate, escorted by security. At the ticket counter before the entrance to the jetway, we each handed over our boarding passes and passports. As expected, a small alarm on the computer rang out and I stole a glance at the screen. I'm not the fastest reader but I noticed that it said my name and that there was a "high priority comment" waiting for the gate agent. I asked what the comment was and if it was any trouble at all. Having never met these agents in the past, they were quite skeptical of speaking with me. The shame of the 'SSSS' marking reared its head again. They said that it was merely a way for them to know that I was already boarded; it was as if they had scanned my boarding pass a second time by mistake, the gate agent explained. As usual I was not informed about the reasons for any of this special treatment and as usual, I was not given an opportunity to correct information about myself in the system that controls my movements.

It doesn't feel good to watch someone make up utter nonsense on a whim, and yet that was the system's final manifestion. I was handed my boarding pass and passport and instructed to board the airplane.

I settled in and filled out my customs form, noting everything I'd purchased and reporting on my private life as the forms demand: where I'd been, where I would be staying, how much money I'd spent, why I had been traveling, and other questions that are no-one's business but my own. If I failed to do this perfectly, I'd be bothered more on a technicality. It is absolutely ridiculous.

My entire flight "home" was filled with stressful and negative thoughts. I wonder if I'll ever be able to land in my own country without a sense of anxiety. Will I ever have closure or clarification on more than a year of extended harassment, detainments, threats and even property seizure?

★ ★ ★

People often say to me "well, don't you know why this is happening to you?" and I reply that while we may all speculate, I have been refused official answers. The little official correspondence I received said it was probably a mistake. It took months and they assure me that things will be better someday, probably. I've been detained multiple times since that letter, both in the U.S. and abroad. The DHS won't share a copy of my files with me or my lawyers. It says that I have no right to know what is in them.

The redress letter suggests that even though nothing is wrong, I'll still be selected for "random" screenings. Consider what they tell us of safety and justice, and ask yourself: is it possible that a system full of such obvious and casual dishonesty will provide it?

Jacob Appelbaum is an independent computer security researcher and hacker. He is currently employed by the University of Washington, and is a core member of the Tor project. After working as a volunteer with WikiLeaks, he has been detained at airports more than a dozen times.

Photos: Jacob Appelbaum
Background image: Pixelab.be
Polaroid frames: Sanami276
Layout: Rob Beschizza

Previously:

Wikileaks volunteer detained
Wikileaks volunteer detained and searched again by US agents
Wikileaks volunteer detained and searched yet again at airport
Secret US Court Order demands email data for WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum
Wikileaks: Q&A with Jacob Appelbaum on "The Afghan War Diaries"

111 Responses to “Air Space - a trip through an airport detention center”

  1. xenphilos says:

    Awesome article. I’ve never flown and I tend to only hear of American airport security procedures. I find all of this process stupid given all the exploitable flaws in the system, the ineffectiveness of the supposed security, the human rights violations and the fact other countries have done airport security better without many of these controversial tactics. Personally, I think the TSA’s purpose is only to make us feel safer, regardless of reality.

  2. jarmstrong says:

    What a great article.  I wonder whether TSA agents personally disagree with or see the reactionary futility in their agency’s policies. If so, I wish–at a minimum–they would be friendlier.  If not, I am sad.

    • EH says:

      agree with or see the reactionary futility in their agency’s 

      gah, disqus is fucking around again. i can only see like 1/3 of what i’m  i guess there’s always one company who has to get traction everywhere beofrescrewing up….:”commenting.”

      policies.

    • ioerror says:

      I find that many TSA agents are reasonable people. I have also found that many TSA agents tend to feel that they’re missing information as opposed to thinking the system is actually seriously broken.

      In reality, we’re all missing information – this is by design; we’re also dealing with a broken system and this is constantly demonstrated by the things we do know.

  3. echolocate chocolate says:

    The worst thing about all of this, the thing that’s just plain depressing, is that there are lots of people who genuinely think all this secrecy and ritual somehow makes us safer. As long as that’s true I don’t think we can ever go back.

    I can get angry at the abuses of power, the rude staff, the deaths of people stuck in security limbo. At least, maybe, eventually, the individuals involved will be brought to justice. But the system, which nobody wants yet no politician dares question… I feel like we’re completely powerless. It has a life of its own now.

  4. rigs says:

    I found this piece very interesting, mostly because of how personally Jacob is taking this. I travel in and out of the US 6-7 times a year. I’d estimate I get SSSSed around 75% of the time, in both directions. Usually I’m quite pleased at this because it means a shorter line for the security check. I don’t mind them checking my bags and find them usually to be at minimum polite and professional and sometimes friendly. Maybe that’s because I don’t make a big deal out of it or make them feel their job is stupid and worthless.

    • Abba Bryant says:

      Their job *is* stupid and worthless – They work for a security theater that hires the under-qualified, under-trains them and then expects them to be the front line in travel security while forcing them to operate using hindsight as their only evidence.

      There is nothing being done here that couldn’t be handled by a better ID system – some trained law enforcement officers on hand and a good old-fashioned gate interview. I know 7 year old children who *literally* pointed out a half-dozen ways that the gate security at PDX could easily be circumvented or fooled. If it is obvious to children, but not the the TSA employees directing the children and parents then how effective could it possibly be? Efficacy is about equal to simply stating “standing in that line will make your flight safer” – and leaving it at that.

    • ioerror says:

      Do you feel that I was making anyone out in this process feel stupid or worthless?

    • barrkel says:

      It sounds like you’re a very good sheep. Most obliging.

    • Al Billings says:

      Rigs, it might be because the agents haven’t been dropping comments that they know a bunch of things about you and asking you about your beliefs concerning the Iraq War and other matters as part of the process too.

      This isn’t random for Jake. He doesn’t “just happen” to get selected every time he crosses the U.S. border. He’s been flagged and it has been confirmed that he has.

    • pathman25 says:

      How nice of you to submit gladly to the authoritarians. This security theater somehow makes you feel safer? Sad.

  5. Erin W says:

    Thanks for the excellent piece, Jacob.  It’s not often I read long-form journalism immediately at work, rather than saving it for later, but this was too good to wait on.  Here’s hoping it gets better for you and all of us sooner rather than later.

  6. Sam Ley says:

    Rigs – you might want to read about some of Jason’s other experiences. While this one was fairly “mild”, others are clearly related to his work – though the “casual dishonesty” constantly claims that this isn’t true, but in such an inconsistent and offhand manner as to make it obviously false. It is odd that you are SSSS’d 75% of the time – if it was truly a random screen, then you’d expect, what, 5-10% of the time, based on the number of people in each system at any given time? Maybe YOU should be wondering what has been written about you somewhere.

    One of the most annoying aspects of this security system is the lack of recourse even if there is a “mistake”. Our lives are highly affected by credit reports as well, which are similar in the sense that they are a record of our lives, used to make decisions that are substantive to us, and are maintained remotely. But even in that case, you can view the contents of the report, and make appeals. The system is far from perfect, but it possesses a rudimentary review and update process. I fear that the reason the security system doesn’t have any appeals process is that if large-scale reviews of the database were undertaken, the amount of racial profiling, religious persecution and baseless suspicion contained in the database would raise concerns about the very validity of  the process.

    • ioerror says:

      The key point to make is that Rigs “assumes” – a democratic system is not full of secret assumptions.

      Such systems of punishment and control should require specific and articulation facts by an impartial judge and jury. No such thing exists in the air travel world; they even pretend at various steps that you have no right to a lawyer, no right to refuse a search, deny access to a bathroom and so on.

  7. Antinous / Moderator says:

    As I left, the man behind me—a friendly fellow American—asked what I’d done.

    In that situation, you should always reply, “I ate a baby.”

  8. rigs says:

    Sam – I assume I get screened because I travel with a foreign passport on routes that don’t necessarily start or end in my country of nationality. If they’re taking notes about what they find in my stuff, they’re not doing it in front of me and to be honest I wouldn’t really care if they did.

    This is not to say I find the way the US does airport security to be particularly effective, but hassling the people who do the job and have exactly zero influence on the procedures they’re supposed to follow strikes me as counter productive and while it might make you feel superior to the guy making minimum wage, it pretty much guarantees a less pleasant experience.

    • EH says:

      Nope, each agent should go home and cry every night until they quit. Make the TSA have to pay exorbitant salaries for frontline workers due to it being such an unpleasant job. Cause the TSA budget to be reworked in light of this. Cause the TSA’s budget to come under scrutiny. Cause the TSA to become an issue.

    • ioerror says:

      I agree that hassling the people is not always productive and rarely is it kind.  I do dispute that they have zero influence and your assumptions there do not line up with my experiences.

    • barrkel says:

      I always travel on routes that don’t start or end with my country of nationality, because I live and work in two separate countries, neither of which I’m a citizen, nor hold a passport for. The company I work for is in the US. Yet, on more than 20 trips there, I have not been targeted like Jacob.

      PS: US airport security particularly effective? How much have you travelled, really? The US in particular gets you to take off your shoes, almost nowhere else does. That’s the biggest difference on the way out. On the way in, CBP takes the longest, longer even than I’ve had in Russia.

  9. Abba Bryant says:

    Replying to myself to clarify – I went through 11 Random Screenings – in a row – on 11 different trips. Either one way, or both ways – randomly. Until I sent a letter and filled out the form to get my name removed (moved to another list).

    • ioerror says:

      That is generally considered a redress request – I have done that and it did not seem to make much of a difference at all. There are many different kinds of lists and tactics that the DHS uses as part of a larger “security” strategy.

      Essentially none of them are open to the average person. Even if the average person has a lawyer or a legal team to help them through the process. The entire system is inaccessible and secret by design – this is anti-democratic and lacks justice at every turn. We should not have to appeal for redress – the system should have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that such flagging and systematic harassment is somehow acceptable. Such a punishment should be decided by a court with a judge and a jury of my peers.

      No such trial has occurred and after more than a year, I am still subject to harassment, detainment, interrogation and other things. This is unacceptable.

  10. sneakatdatavibe says:

    > Though we’d manage to leave the room, we could not leave the system that produced that room. 

    This is simply not accurate.  The solution is to leave America, and never fly there.  Despite their efforts, they do not yet run the entire globe.

    • ioerror says:

      That is a privilege that is not afforded to every person. If we lived in a world without borders, I’d agree that it might be as simple as leaving.

      You’re still living under American foreign policy, if you’re lucky enough to be accepted as an immigrant in another land. I hardly think it’s reasonable to suggest that America’s security policy somehow ends on American soil; that security warning was in the Iceland Air computer and even if I were to leave, I’ll likely never be free to correct it.

      • sneakatdatavibe says:

        Face it – if you weren’t flying to America, the notation in the computer wouldn’t matter.

        Leaving isn’t a privilege – anyone with feet is free to do so.  It’s not easy, but it beats the endless and purposeless bitching of those who won’t take responsibility for their own plight.

        • Sam Ley says:

          The “of course you have a choice, just leave the country” argument is also weak. It is the real day-to-day choices we make, extended to absurdity. You certainly can leave, and some people do, but it isn’t like choosing a different brand of shampoo – you must have enough money/skills/education to be allowed to immigrate to another country, as must all the members of your family that you attempt to bring. You must have the financial resources to make the move. You must leave behind all of your professional contacts, friends and family members.

          Again, all possible, but not in the trivial sense that people throw it out there – “oh just leave if you don’t like it.” As citizens, we do expect to play a part in how things are done, and expect to be afforded the same rights as everyone else, in accordance with our principles. Jason hasn’t been running around yelling and ranting – in fact this was about the calmest description of an airline detention I’ve ever read. We all know why Jason gets targeted – but that doesn’t make it right. Just how wearing revealing clothing doesn’t make a women deserve to be raped, or how being black in a nice neighborhood make you deserved to be pulled over more often.

          Of course, if you don’t like hearing that, you have a choice, just commit suicide. ;)

          • sneakatdatavibe says:

            I never claimed that it was right, what is happening.  I just pointed out that blogging and media-whoring isn’t going to change it – if it was, it would have done so in the first ten years of the PATRIOT Act existing.  It’s clear that the American People are totally ok with being treated like this, and it’s not going to change.

            That said, you can either blog about it, or leave.  The one thing you can’t do is change it.  Jake’s about as connected as any web-2.0 media scenester could possibly be, and all he’s done is illustrate just how powerless one is against them, even when well-connected and well-publicized.

            Either accept the American police state as a force of nature, or go somewhere else.  Your arguments about leaving are bullshit, also – if you are terrorized in one place, you do not need permission or stamps to go somewhere else.  Illegal immigration is still immigration.

            Articles like this are just wasting everyone’s time.  America is a now a totalitarian police state – case closed.  Live within it, or go live somewhere else and take your taxes and productive energies with you.  You’re paying their salaries, presently.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            Articles like this are just wasting everyone’s time.

            Then why did you read it?

          • barrkel says:

            How do you think political change occurs? By people keeping quiet, shutting up, and being good little sheep? Or by talking about it, drawing attention to injustice, creating public outcry, “media-whoring” as you put it?

            What exactly do you think the purpose of the fourth estate is? Or is the entire edifice of journalism mere prostitution for you, free press something to be burned?

        • ioerror says:

          You’re mistaken. The comments in the computer matters and it causes headaches in lots of places including Europe. I suppose you’ve never been deported and well – congratulations to you if that is so!

          Leaving and staying away is a privilege that is afforded to those who are willing and able to cut all ties to the United States. Consider the systematic denial of education that many Americans face in the USA and then look at entry requirements for permanent residency in other countries in the world. In Europe and North America, it’s extremely class based. No college education? Good luck with becoming a landed immigrant in Canada. Do you have medical needs? Do you have debt? Do you have a family that you ever want to visit again?

          There are similar restrictions that vary country by country. While there are exceptions for individuals, it’s not a hopeful strategy for three hundred million Americans. Things in the United States need to change in a positive direction and leaving is not a tactic that every American is able, willing or should take in pursuit of a better world.

          You suggest that it isn’t easy but I’d suggest that it’s not a pissing match. If you think my writing about this topic is purposeless and without responsibility, I’ll have to disagree. I’m interested in finding solutions beyond a single individual. Part of finding that solution is to observe and discuss the treatment of individuals.

          Your victim blaming is boring and privileged. It is exactly what I’d expect from a wealthy, educated, white man from the United States who is trying to justify leaving for Enlightened Europe.
          If you have suggestions for systemic solutions, I’m all ears.

          • davidasposted says:

            I do not agree with sneakatdatavibe that your article is a waste of time. However, in the U.S., as in most countries around the world, commercial air travel is a relatively privileged form of transportation. The poor, debt-ridden, uneducated American whom you invoke is not taking vacations, much less plane rides. Make no mistake: the problem you identify in this article is one experienced by the relatively privileged.

          • ioerror says:

            The key word there is relatively.

          • davidasposted says:

            Sure, the poor person living in Detroit, MI might be relatively privileged in comparison to the poor person in Kolkata, West Bengal. Very few people in this world are privileged in absolute terms. However, you are likely more privileged than a majority of people alive on this planet, and the same could be said for anyone who has the disposable income to purchase airline tickets, spend time away from work, etc. The fact that your tickets were paid for by someone else, and that your workplace allows you time off for this sort of endeavor, illustrates my point.

            Again, I think your concerns are valid. But I also think sneakatdatavibe’s argument about the possible solutions at your disposal are also valid.

          • ioerror says:

             The fact that your tickets were paid for by someone else, and that your workplace allows you time off for this sort of endeavor, illustrates my point.

            I was traveling for work and yes, I was invited and that is a privilege. However these security measures apply to ~1.5 million people in the US daily for air travel alone. When you consider that the ‘SSSS’ and VIPR squads are from the same agencies – it’s actually a problem for everyone. Including truck drivers in rural america. It’s the same agencies and it’s actually a thing that transcends most class issues. The exception is the very lucky who are able to actually get themselves removed – this is certainly a privileged class that I am not a part of.

            But I also think sneakatdatavibe’s argument about the possible solutions at your disposal are also valid.

            He made no actual arguments that solve any of the issues that I presented – he merely suggests leaving which may not be possible but certainly does not solve the issue.

          • davidasposted says:

            He might not have phrased his claim using the formal language of an argument, but an argument is nevertheless there, even if you consider it impractical. Your article raised an implicit question: what is to be done about the very real inconveniences faced by American travelers and those who travel to the U.S. as a consequence of what most reasonable people regard as theater rather than genuine security?

            sneakatdatavibe’s answer, which is very much an argument about minimizing where possible the day-t0-day personal inconveniences of a growing American police state: “The solution is to leave America, and never fly there.  Despite their efforts, they do not yet run the entire globe.

            I have no doubt you would prefer that the U.S. acknowledge that their airline security procedures are farcical and, in some cases, counterproductive. I have no doubt that you and many other Americans would like to see a complete transformation in how the U.S. manages its security obligations (and indeed, its view of those obligations even are). Most folks around the world would probably like to see substantive changes to the American military-security apparatus, one aspect of which has unfairly targeted you. But which is more likely and indeed more possible: 1.) the American government changes the way it does business, or 2.) you change?

            Would it be difficult for people to make the decision to leave the U.S.? Certainly. Would the move itself be difficult? No more than any other life decision. I don’t want to predicate this argument entirely on my own experience, but contrary to your claims above, I left the U.S. and legally moved to Canada in 2006 with nothing more than a B.A. and $6k debt and although I had no family or business connections to the country and only retail work experience, I continue to live here legally. But I had a plan and was determined to leave.

            Is the decision inconvenient? Yes. Does the decision have negative consequences? Sure. But a principled decision (though in this case I would describe leaving the U.S. as a pragmatic decision) is not supposed to be easy or convenient.

          • ioerror says:

            As I stated previously, I do not believe that this is a solution to the problem.

            At best it *might* solve it for me. But again, he has no idea, nor do you – about the reach of the US and its allies in the rest of the world beyond your own experiences. My experiences are different and counter the statements that you make. This is obvious to me and I wonder why you’re unable to understand it.

            Canada will do whatever the US says and won’t even fight for their own citizens:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_rendition_by_the_United_States#Maher_Arar_case
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_KhadrSo again – that isn’t a solution to the pattern and it isn’t a solution in my instance. Any solution will solve the problem for the pattern and I hope for my own instance as well.

          • davidasposted says:

            I suppose I take a slightly longer view on this subject. The Harper Government ™ will not fight for its own citizens, not than the Canadian government. As for the apparent obviousness of the beliefs that we hold true, I admit I am probably guilty:

            http://boingboing.net/2011/10/31/third-person-effect-an-excerpt-from-you-are-not-so-smart.html

          • Daniel says:

            Again, I think your concerns are valid. But I also think sneakatdatavibe’s argument about the possible solutions at your disposal are also valid.

            sneakdatavibe’s argument is essentially that anyone who has a problem with security theater needs to give up their birthplace, home, family, inheritance, and everything else they’ve ever known.  That is prima facie ridiculous (and not even remotely an argument).  But beyond that, how does shipping all the sane, reasonable people out of the USA do anything to solve the problem?  Seems to me like that would make it worse.

          • davidasposted says:

            Maybe it’s time you for to consider the possibility that the U.S. is unsalvageable.

          • Daniel says:

            Well, seeing as you’re not actually making an argument…considered and rejected. My part of the country ain’t so different from Canada.

          • davidasposted says:

            I could rephrase my statement as an argument if you’d like: “Many of the ‘problems’ identified by Mr. Appelbaum in this article or Occupy movement protestors, among others, are a feature of the system and not a bug. Because the ‘problem’ cannot be solved–even by well-meaning, intelligent, creative people–the best solution for those persons is to focus there efforts elsewhere and to live and work in countries where their efforts will be more effective.”

            Now, the comments section of BoingBoing is probably not the best place for me to offer evidence for this argument; I do not want to hijack the thread entirely. Nor do you have to agree with my argument, or reasons for it, or implied evidence. Many arguments are not irrefutable, particularly if you do not agree with the premises. And that is okay, we do not have to agree on this or any other issue. My opinions/arguments are my own.

            In answer to your earlier question, which I think was edited out: I was born and raised in Chicago and moved to Canada in late-2006.

          • Daniel says:

            Yah, edited out because I spotted your origins story in your previous comment. 

            Now, the comments section of BoingBoing is probably not the best place for me to offer evidence for this argument; I do not want to hijack the thread entirely. Nor do you have to agree with my argument, or reasons for it, or implied evidence. Many arguments are not irrefutable, particularly if you do not agree with the premises. And
            that is okay, we do not have to agree on this or any other issue. My opinions/arguments are my own.

            Umm, OK.  Your country sucks and you’re crazy to live there.  And if you bother to ask why I think so I’m just going to pretend to be all high-minded and live-and-let-live about it.Suffice to say I think you’re incredibly naive to think that moving across a border about a hundred miles from your birthplace to another English-speaking country with remarkably similar economy and political systems move you outside the sphere of influence of the U.S.A.  The U.S. is a commercial empire and you’ve moved from the heart of empire to a country that is probably more dependent than any other on its commercial entanglements with the U.S.  Maybe if you moved to Russia or China you could get outside “the system” as you called it.  And your “restatement” is not an argument any more than the original statement.  You assert that:1) The “problems” with “the system” are features, not bugs Therefore:2) These “problems” cannot be solvedThe problem is that (2) does not follow from (1).  So this still amounts to simply asserting without evidence or argument that these “problems” cannot be solved.

          • davidasposted says:

            I think that our dispute here is, at least in part, semantic. My definition of an argument is a sentence that asserts something which may be true or false, in contrast to a factual statement which, by definition, is indisputable. My evidence would be the data that
            I have collected and interpreted to prove my argument, collected together as claims. Is it unfair for me to make an argument and not provide enough evidence for it to satisfy your skepticism? Probably. I wish BoingBoing was my job, so that I could offer a more comprehensive and acceptable justification for my argument. It isn’t, so I can at best provide a reader’s digest version: E1. All empires suffer collapse, usually because of military overreach and fiscal deficits. This claim is basically a historical fact; see for example: the Roman empire, the British empire, the Soviet empire, etc. E2. The U.S. is an empire. You have implicitly indicated in your reply that you agree, but the relatively recent book by Negri and Hardt provide a pretty good summary of the claim: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_%28book%29 E3. The citizens of the U.S. cannot reverse its collapse. This claim is likely to raise the most opposition. 3a. My evidence is in part a composite of how I understand the country to function: 1.) the oligarchical and thoroughly corrupt nature of its political and economic systems, 2.) the influence of Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex on those systems, 3.) the calcified two-party political arrangement, 4.) the failure of the American education system to prepare its citizens for the global economic future, etc. 3b. This claim also derives from what I believe about democracy as a system of governance, that in order for a democracy to function effectively, it requires both an engaged and informed electorate. Most Americans are neither and many even seem to revel (or express resignation for) their ignorance and apathy.Obviously these summaries are inadequate; this argument could easily become a book-length project. But I’m not convinced it’s a project worth pursuing, for no other reason than I am not sure I have the stamina or the resources needed for it.

            Now,  I do not believe that any country is protected from the military, economic, or social influence of the U.S.; the country is an empire for that very reason. I do not believe that the U.S. will just disappear as a consequence of its collapse; I suspect that in 50 years the U.S. will look a bit like France does today in terms of its geopolitical influence. I do not believe that everything about the U.S. or everyone who lives there sucks. But as you can tell, I do believe that if people have the means and the inclination there is every reason to investigate moving somewhere else. There is nothing noble about sinking with the ship, rather than hopping aboard the life raft to relative safety.

            And if you decide to stay in the U.S. and fight, more power to you. I just don’t like your odds, that’s all. (I apologize for the condensed reply: disqus is modifying my formatting)

          • Daniel says:

            Mighty comment!  You do have some great points and in my more cynical moments I would tend to agree with everything that you’re saying.  At the same time I think there’s some hope.  I think many Americans are ignorant and apathetic only because they’ve accepted the artificial U.S. consumer culture as the world they live in and that they can be made less apathetic by demonstrating to them that a real culture made by humans for humans is possible.  In other words, I think your problems (3) and (4) can be solved by American people without the help of large governing institutions — and I’m hoping OWS might be a sign that it’s happening already.And I don’t mean to denigrate your decision to move to Canada in the least.  I’ve looked longingly northward on more than a few occasions in the last few years.  Thanks for the thorough response, and cheers.

  11. crnk says:

    While I am interested in reading about experiences like these, I am also bothered by the faux-naivety about the reasoning behind the screening.  He isn’t some average low key joe with nothing going on. 
    I won’t argue for a second that this is right or that there is a justification for them doing this, but the first sentence of the second to last paragraph [People often say to me "well, don't you know why this is happening to you?" and I reply that while we may all speculate, I have been refused official answers.] is a little too smug for my tastes.  Because, the I’d say the quick bio on him has 2 really good clues as to why he might get profiled for extra security.  Jacob Appelbaum is an independent computer security researcher and hacker… After working as a volunteer with WikiLeaks, he has been detained at airports more than a dozen times.

    • ioerror says:

      Could you link me to a court opinion that sanctions me?

      I appreciate that you and I may both speculate – we may even have some wonderful ideas – this doesn’t change the fact that I have directly asked and been denied any real answers.

      Is it so much to be told the truth by the people that rule over my life? Hardly.

    • MinistryOfInfo says:

      Because, the I’d say the quick bio on him has 2 really good clues as to why he might get profiled for extra security.  Jacob Appelbaum is an independent computer security researcher and hacker… a volunteer with WikiLeaks….

      Neither of which is illegal, nor reason to think he’s a risk to a plane he’s about to board.  Which is all the DHS should concern themselves with.

      • ioerror says:

        Indeed and even if you think it’s a reason – what about every other person with the ‘SSSS’ – does it seem reasonable to lump them in with me?

      • crnk says:

        I agree.  My comment stated so.  This is a lame/stupid move on the behalf of US intelligence.  But he is pretending he doesn’t know why this happened is twice as stupid as anything pulled off on him. 
        After reading the article, I feel more mislead about his circumstances than I think he was mislead about being a non security threat.

        • ioerror says:

          I have had the ‘SSSS’ on my boarding pass over the last ten years. Was it my protesting against the Afghan war a decade ago? At what point should I know what caused it to appear this time?

          Your statement amounts to victim blaming and it is total rubbish as a result.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          But he is pretending he doesn’t know why this happened is twice as stupid as anything pulled off on him.

          Proceeding on the assumption that airport security’s job is to keep planes from being blown up or hijacked, I feel completely comfortable saying that I don’t know why this happened to him.

          • librtee_dot_com says:

            If you still hold that assumption, you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10+ years!

    • pathman25 says:

      That clearly makes him a terrorist threat, right? Bullshit!

    • Kyle Rose says:

      So your contention is that he’s being detained and put through extra airport security not because he’s a danger to a flight but because people high up don’t agree with his politics or hobbies? I just want to clear that up.

  12. Chauncey Scott says:

    I’d assume Jacob’s connection to Wikileaks and the underbelly that is the Internet has led to his SSSS designation. My father is a pianist and left a tuning wrench in his carry on and that was enough to get the SSSS label attached his name. However a well written letter to Frank Lautenberg one of our Senators, got it expunged rather quickly. .02/

  13. James O'Brien says:

    Thanks for writing such a piece, which while sad to read, does the world a service by highlighting the reach of the American security state. Not only do they dispense with even tokenistic civil liberties when keeping tabs on internal dissidents but they also get otherwise innocuous countries like Iceland to do their dirty work for them, thus illustrating the international pecking order. 

    Quote: “People often say to me “well, don’t you know why this is happening to you?” and I reply that while we may all speculate, I have been refused official answers.”

    Well, we can speculate with degrees of probability! Wikileaks has cast aside the veil of decorum that sheathed American foreign policy from a sizable portion of the planet’s population. That sheath was a major source of US power in the world. There aren’t many nation-states that would dare take on the American state so directly. Their retribution will never end as long as you remain a dissident. And part of that retribution is to enmesh you in Kafkaeque procedure when you travel. 

    “Such systems of punishment and control should require specific and articula­tion facts by an impartial judge and jury” …
    …Is it so much to be told the truth by the people that rule over my life? Hardly.”

    As a citizen or even as a human being, it isn’t too much to ask at all. But, whether you like it or not, you’re an enemy of the US state (an honourable position in my view) and unfortunately that comes with pretty heavy consequences.

    I hope things work out for you and Wikileaks.

  14. Alexa O'Brien says:

    A TSA agent at JFK told me this year I “has the right to respect the uniform” and a group of them yelled in secondary holding.  They told me I had , “no rights”.  I stood there silently, and responded, “Ask me your questions so I can get this over with.”

  15. rigs says:

    My assumption is based on my professional experience with this sort of thing (albeit over 20 years ago). Even if it’s incorrect and I’m on some kind of list I don’t really care. They check my stuff, it takes 5 minutes, it’s better than no security at all and honestly I don’t mind it.

    Maybe it’s because I’m not an American that all this “right to refuse a search” and “right to a lawyer” etc strikes me as somewhat naive. You chose to fly, you can expect to be thoroughly checked. Feel free to take a train if that bothers you. I also find it a bit naive to expect them to tell you how exactly they determine who gets more scrutiny.

    Again, this is not to say it couldn’t be done better. But people need to come to terms with the fact that at least in the near future, you’ll probably have to go through a check at the airport, it might include a search you didn’t consent to, and it might not be pleasant, particularly if you go out of your way to make it so.

    • Sam Ley says:

      It is true that the US constitution does have more specific items in it with regards to representation, illegal search and seizure, etc., than some other nation’s constitutions – but it is easy to forget that these things were put in there for very good reasons. We make a big deal about them because they are big deals.

      The “you choose to fly, so you should put up with everything asked of you” is a weak argument. There comes a point, as society matures, where certain aspects of infrastructure are required to conduct your business and your “pursuit of happiness”. The rights to free travel within the borders of our country were not originally described with cars and airplanes in mind, but as those technologies become more prevalent, they get enveloped into your right to move freely. If, for instance, your religion determined whether or not you could get a driver’s license, it would be absurd to say, “Why so uppity about the injustice of it all? Just walk everywhere.” Airline travel isn’t some obscure process – it is a constant feature of modern life, just like electricity, telephones and purified water, and should be a part of the “infrastructure of life” that people are allowed to interact with in a manner consistent with the constitution, and the rights we afford ourselves regarding search, seizure and due process.

    • ioerror says:

      Which train do you normally catch to Stockholm, Sweden from the United States?

    • barrkel says:

      Take a train? WTF? What train across the Atlantic, exactly? The more of your posts I read, the more you come across as a propaganda shill. All these “rights” you so casually dismiss, were won at great cost, only wrested from governments after HUNDREDS OF YEARS of struggle. People died for the things you’re willing to cast aside. Be very aware of what you’re doing; what you lose, you will not gain again easily.

      If you think this is just something for airports, you’re amazingly naive. Airports were just the beginning. VIPR is the next step. The age of mass surveillance drones is only a few years away. This stuff is moving really quickly.

    • Al Billings says:

      Rigs, you know the TSA has authority over trains too, right? They’ve been searching people and harassing them on trains as well. A quick Google search can help you here.

      Some people don’t have the option not to travel internationally because of their work. They should not have to put up with harassment that has nothing to do with actual security and everything to do with political punishment.

      • ioerror says:

        The VIPR TSA actions are extremely important changes in policy that are worth noting for the unfamiliar: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/06/tsa-swarms-8000-bus-stations-public-transit-systems-yearly

    • Ahem — Things have changed since 9/11.

  16. myke says:

    Articles like this are just wasting everyone’s time.  America is a now a totalitarian police state – case closed.  Live within it, or go live somewhere else and take your taxes and productive energies with you.  You’re paying their salaries, presently.

    While I would agree that the US is a police state in many respects.  Your assumption that it is unchangeable is certainly wrong.  It may not change in our life time.  It may even get much worse.  But it will change.  The only question is when.  I would personally like it to change sooner rather than later and I see blogs complaining about it as one of many ways to effect that change (the Occupy movement is yet another way).  Giving up and walking away, on the other hand. is not a very effective method (IMO).  And frankly given the global nature of the world, I’m not sure it is all that possible.  Where would you go? The only places not highly influenced by the US aren’t any better (e.g. Iran, N. Korea, China,…). And in the long run, giving up and walking away will likely end up leading to a much more violent change.

  17. Leeoates says:

    Sounds like an obedient little Fascist to me.

  18. blissfulight says:

    The most crushing aspect of this article is the realization that we, the U.S., are bullies.  We are that college jock pushing the other kids around, taking what we want, threatening overwhelming force if we don’t get our way, gregariously slapping other nation’s back in a manner that isn’t really meant to convey friendliness or solidarity, so much as dominance, power, strength.  No wonder we’re so adamant about supporting the national security state no matter what the cost…It would signal to the rest of the world that our days as QB with the winning touchdown are over, if we started cutting back.  We’re aging, and not in a good way.  I’m sincerely embarrassed for us, as a nation.

  19. Telling someone who lives in America that the solution to their border control harassment is to stop traveling to and from America? That’s the ticket.

  20. Their feldspars says:

    That polaroid photo has the image on the back side.

  21. Another Kevin says:

    You people have no appreciation for the brave men and women who labor tirelessly to keep us safe and secure, How can we possibly keep any freedom if our protectors don’t have absolute power over us?  You don’t have any right to complain. Freedom of speech is the freedom of responsible speech, not the freedom to criticize the government that we owe our lives to. And you surely don’t have any right to fly. The constitution doesn’t say one word about airplanes.  And if the government chooses to allow you to fly, you have no right to be searched. The constitution only says that searches have to be reasonable. If the government says that a search is reasonable, who are you to say it isn’t?

    If I keep posting right-wing authoritarian messages like this, do you think I’ll eventually get a boarding pass without SSSS?

  22. glassartists says:

    I`m curious, would it be sort of possible for a large group of SSSS people from one city to get together and sort of flash mob an airflight, by all booking on atthe same time…could this possibly delay an interrupt flight schedules

  23. As everybody knows, the specific problem being discussed is much more of a symptom than the disease itself, this one with important effects across all classes, privileged or not. The simple fact that a ton of money is being spent on ineffective security measures is already enough to make this point. The same money is heavily needed elsewhere, specially in times of a severe economic downturn. Just look at the crazy notion of “freedom of expression being a right provided by the government” and it should be clear how the different manifestations of this same disease have an impact in everyone, one way or the other.

  24. social_maladroit says:

    I’d like to say how impressed I am with Mr. Appelbaum’s replies to others in this thread. Not just because he’s being very reasonable and cool-headed, but also because BoingBoing’s moderation policy prohibits me from saying exactly what I think about, uh, certain posters to whom Mr. Appelbaum has replied.

  25. styrofoam says:

    I’m going to come across as a boor, and ignore most of the key points.  Disregard my feelings for the rest of the article, and just treat this as pure copy editing.
    This is the part that really confused me:  “I don’t travel with the keys, which means that security screeners have access to my belongings and I do not.”

    Do you forget the combination when you travel, or are you just trying really hard to be obtuse?
    Isn’t it more accurate to say, “I can’t use a key, I have to scroll to the right combination?”
    Generally, the “advantage” that the TSA locks have over real locks, or even zip ties, (ostensibly, I admit) is that there’s a green/red dot indicator.  If the dot is red, you can tell if your luggage has been searched out of your presence, and may then pay more attention to any articles that are missing.  If the dot is red, that also means that the lock was re-attached, and your luggage theoretically safe from pilfering by any non-TSA employee that handled your baggage afterwards.  More permanent types of locks are generally removed at first sight, then leaving your payload unencrypted for the rest of the transmission path, as it were.

  26. decius says:

    Its worth pointing out that the reason that TSA searches are Constitutional is that they relate to the safety and security of flights – there is a compelling state interest to protect the safety of flights. The use of this mechanism for law enforcement purposes other than protecting the safety of flights is unconstitutional. This includes searches for narcotics, or searches of people associated with a website that we don’t like, or searches of people who write software we’re unhappy about, or searches of people that we’re investigating for any reason that is unrelated to the safety of flights. Placing someone on a TSA watchlist or otherwise flagging them for regular secondary screening for reasons unrelated to the safety of flights is unconstitutional. 

    Although it is incredibly difficult to prove in court that you were singled out for a reason that is unrelated to the safety of flights, this fact still bares repeating. It is important that people understand that TSA searches are intended to protect flights. TSA checkpoints are not a general purpose law enforcement dragnet and it is unconstitutional to use them as such. There is a bright line here that our culture and our law enforcement should recognize and respect. 

  27. rigs says:

    Yes, I agree with that. I didn’t raise the point earlier but if someone is being searched by the TSA (or any other body in charge of security of flights) for reasons not directly related to flight security that is both wrong and counter productive. To keep flights secure you want as few people as possible to have an interest in lying to you.

    • ioerror says:

      This is part of a concentrated effort by the DHS to harass and intimidate me. I’ve been questioned by DHS agents about my feelings on the Iraq war as well as many other things – nothing at all to do with aviation security – during a normal business trip.

  28. gregorylent says:

    america is insane.

    that often happens to entire cultures … nazi germany, north korea, china in the cultural revolution 

    it doesn’t last forever ..

    one of the ways to get over it more quickly is to see the reality and accept it, don’t ignore it.

    this is the strategic value of the biblical saying “resist not evil” 

    accepting it, allows you to fight it by creating another reality.

  29. lishevita says:

    When 9/11 happened, I was living in the UK. The next time my then 12 year old son flew to the US, he was put through the special security screening. He was a kid, flying unattended, but I was able to go through the screening with him that time because he was still under 18, and I was given a special pass to go with him all the way to the plane. After that, he was given the special security screening at every flight back and forth between the US and the UK and within the US for several years. We used to joke that he was getting pulled over “for being brown.” At last, when he was 17 he got on a plane in the US once without going through the extra screening. Hallelujah!  

    Still, the absurd security theater in the US makes me so annoyed that I have refused to fly in this country at all if there is any way to avoid it. When I fly into our out of the US, I drive up to Canada and fly from there. If I lived close to the Mexican border, I’d probably fly out of Tijuana instead. 
    UK security theater is similarly horrendous, but I’ve not found any way to avoid it. The last time I was in the UK, though, I made a bit of a nuissance of myself by explaining, loudly, to my youngest child why exactly the stuff we were going through was security theater and not actual security and asked him to suggest ways in which they might make flights truly more secure. If an 11 year old boy can figure out better forms of airport security, you’d think that the bureaucracies in the US and UK would be able to as well.

  30. crnk says:

    I didn’t talk about sanctions and the full legality here.
    I love the correlation /= causation meme as much as the next guy.  Trust me, I pull it off a lot.  But you can argue all day about how nothing is illegal and direct answers aren’t given.  I get that.  I even disagree with the BS here.  My point was that the faux-naivety doesn’t cut it in some circles.  Admit this is unfair and unjust, that the circumstances of your actions are legal, and you’ll find support.  You’re right to be pissed off that there is radio silence about the reasons and circumstances of this.  But pretending that there is no link between your circumstances and the action seen here is TRYING to be stupid about it.Instead, when one finds out the circumstances, it just sounds whiny and high maintenance.  To put it simply, if I were to be in an actual court case, and someone used the LAST statement to pretend they sort of don’t officially even know why they’re in the court…I’d offer no sympathy. 

    • ioerror says:

      If you’re in a court case you have no question about the charges – note the difference. Unless you’re in a secret grand jury and in that case you may be gagged and unable to state anything even if you knew it.

  31. ookluh says:

    Assuming that Mr. Appelbaum is being screened because of his Wikileaks connection is still just that, an assumption.  If it is not explicitly stated by the TSA, at least verbally, then by any definition it is not “known” why he has been singled out.  

    The DHS and TSA are policing organizations that gather secret information not unlike a long list of secret policing organizations from times past.  The major difference is now they are focused on Americans.  American agencies collecting information and making secret lists about Americans.  In secret.  Secretly.  Without transparency.  Why anyone wants to excuse their behavior is beyond my ability to understand.

    (Edited for clarity)

  32. johnnyaction says:

    After 9/11 I think security should if anything, loosen up a little. I can see bomb sniffing luggage but extra passenger screening to me is useless.

    Even if someone managed to sneak a pistol on a plane everyone knows that there is a good chance of a hijacker auguring the plane into a building or ground and there is no shortage of people willing to take that person out even if it means they risk getting shot.

    I doubt terrorists are going to attack exactly the same way as they did before and I think our home grown crazies in the US are probably more of a risk. Some idiots still think of Timothy McVeigh as a “hero”.

    Our rights and freedoms are being eroded at an accelerated pace and people seem more than happy to line up and give up more privacy, due process in return for the promise of safety from “danger” from a bureaucracy that lusts after control.

  33. jackie31337 says:

    I tried to comfort him by explaining the familiar process, only to feel horrible for rationalizing our
    experience in the framework of everything being OK. We were doing what we were told, we would make our flight, and we’d be fine when it was all over.

    That. Right there. I know that feeling.

    I got an SSSS boarding pass a few years ago while traveling with my young daughter. I knew why we had been  selected, and I knew it wasn’t right, but I also wanted to reassure her. I didn’t feel right telling her everything was OK. Instead, I explained what was going to happen, and that it would be over soon and we could get on our plane. Even then, I think she understood on some level that what was happening to us was wrong.

  34. AirPillo says:

    I have nothing to add except that this was interesting and I’m thankful to have learned from reading it.

  35. douglas gray says:

    How was his locked luggage searched in the absence of a key he purposefully doesn’t travel with and the TSA skeleton key not issued to Iceland customs agents? Did I read that wrong?

  36. ehasbrouck says:

    I’ve been trying for more than four years to find out what’s in the DHS’s secret file about my travels.

    I received no response to my Privacy Act request for more than three years, until shortly after the Identity Project (PapersPlease.org) brought a lawsuit on my behalf:

    http://papersplease.org/wp/hasbrouck-v-cbp/

    While my request was pending, DHS promulgated new regulations exempting the database it uses to “target” travels form the Privacy Act. We are currently waiting for a decision from the U.S. District Court as to whether that exemption can be applied retroactively to my request. But even if i am successful in court (because my request was made before the exemption), that exemption means that i will be the only person who ever gets to see my “Automated Targeting System” (ATS) file or find out with whom it has been “shared” or how it has been used.

    The censored excerpts I and others who have made such requests received to date include records of flights on European airlines, within Europe, ticketed separately from and not connecting to or from any flights to, form, or via the USA. US airlines would not have access to this data. DHS could obtain it only because they had (and probably still have) “root” access to the Computerized Reservation Systems (CRSs) that store this data. My ATS records also include records of *train* travel within Europe. I included some examples of these in recent presentations to European politicians, activists, and journalists:

    http://hasbrouck.org/IDP/PNR-Hasbrouck-OCT2011.pdf

    http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001963.html

    There are more excerpts (censored by DHS) from their records of my travels here:

    http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001607.html#example

    While no *US* law requires travel companies to tell you what records they have kept about you or passed on to governments, or how they have been used, European law requires this of any company that collects personal data in the EU (including airlines and CRSs based in the US and other countries when they collect data in the EU). Under EU law, such companies are required to disclose to you, on request, the *logic* used in any processing carried out “on the basis of” data obtained from them, even when that processing is carried out by a third party. That means an airline that collects data in the EU — e.g. a reconfirmation phone number or baggage check or seat assignment or check-in data for a return flight to the US — is required, on request, to tell you the *algorithm* used by the DHS for processing this data in its “targeting” system.

    Of course the airlines don’t know the DHS algorithm, and can’t comply with such requests. That means every airline operating between the US and the EU is allowing DHS access to, and processing of, passenger data according to a secret DHS algorithm in flagrant violation of EU law.

    You can and should request this information from these travel companies, and pursue complaints against them with European authorities if they (inevitably) don’t comply with their obligations:

    http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001607.html

    http://ichmachpolitik.at/questions/1316

  37. Mister44 says:

    re: ” is an independent computer security researcher and hacker. ”
    Yeesh – why would you put ‘hacker’ in your description about oneself, especially when expressing puzzlement over attention from security? Yes – yes, I know not all hackers are “bad”. But it has a negative connotation to it. I have a friend who is a magician and pick pocket (the good kind), but he doesn’t run around giving himself that title everywhere.

    That said, clearly his association with Wikileaks is the reason for his detention. Clearly the “security theater” is bullshit that isn’t making anything any safer. In fact, best as I can tell, other than locking the cockpit doors (and maybe some of the added screening of checked bags).

    Isreal has pretty tight security, but they rely on actually TRAINED people who pick up on cues while asking questions. Random checks do nothing. It’s a huge waste of time and energy and all the people working for the TSA has resulted in a shortage of mall cops.

    • Daniel says:

      But it has a negative connotation to it.

      Chicken, meet egg.  The negative connotation puts respectable people off self-describing as hackers which, in turn, helps to solidify the negative connotations of the word “hacker.”  This is exactly why more respectable people need to identify as hackers — to take back the word and eliminate as much of the negative connotation as possible.  Your “i know not all hackers are ‘bad’” bullshit is very representative of the problem here.  There is nothing intrinsically bad or good about hacking — like driving cars, it can be used for good or evil.  However, newsworthy hackers are typically the criminal ones so any time “hacker” comes up in public it’s a bad thing.Please help instead of making the situation worse.  People who break the law using software are “crackers.”  “Hackers” are accomplished makers, modders, and very occasionally users of software or computer systems.

  38. Hyman Rosen says:

    I believe that the law permits searches of people crossing international borders into the United States simply on the basis of “suspicion,” which is a very low standard requiring essentially no justification. Such searches are not just for airline security but also for detecting smuggling. Appelbaum is a representative of Wikileaks, which the government suspects may have broken laws in its acquisition and exposure of data, and has participated in breaking through various forms of computer security, which the government may also suspect skirts the edge of legality. Either of these activities is sufficient to create “suspicion” and cause you to be singled out for search. Perhaps the agencies responsible hope that as a hacker, you will one day overconfidently attempt to transport some illegally-obtained documents into the United States and they will catch you. I don’t think you are justified in your hurt, passive-agressive attitude toward being searched; you are, in fact, a more suspicious person than most other people who travel.

    • hassenpfeffer says:

      As so many others have remarked: The TSA ostensibly exists to prevent planes from being blown up or hijacked. How does an arbitrary stamp of “suspiciousness” by some unseen authority working under unpublished criteria make Mr. Appelbaum more likely than anyone else to blow up a plane? Cui bono? How could Wikileaks possibly benefit by blowing up a plane? On the other hand, the benefit that accrues to unseen bureaucrat making arbitrary decisions is obvious–said bureaucrat gets to continue being paid by the American taxpayers to harass his/her fellow citizens. M(r)(s) Bureaucrat also positions him/herself as more attractive for job promotion by flagging as many fellow citizens as possible.

    • decius says:

      Its important to draw a distinction between TSA searches and searches by CBP (US Customs). People regularly conflate them. They are different organizations that operate under different legal frameworks.

      This essay describes cooperation between TSA and Iceland. I have no idea how the rules work in Iceland. However, the purpose of TSA is to protect the safety and security of transportation. TSA searches occur domestically as well as on international flights. The Constitutionality of searches by TSA at domestic airports is connected narrowly with the safety and security of flights. TSA searches are not a general purpose law enforcement mechanism. It is not Constitutional to use TSA searches for purposes that are unrelated to the safety of transportation.

      CBP (US Customs) is a completely different story. CBP can perform in depth searches of people entering the United States. This is called a “border search.” Current jurisprudence is that “routine border searches” do not require any “suspicion.” They can occur at random. The breadth of what CBP claims are “routine border searches” is broad (too broad in my view but that is topic for a different thread).

      CBP certainly has the power to search people at the border for reasons that are totally unrelated to the safety and security of flights. (In fact, they can search people for no reason at all). However, the powers of CBP at the border and the legal framework for CBP at the border do not apply to TSA. TSA has a more narrow authority that is exercised domestically and not strictly at the border.

      Again, it is inappropriate and Unconstitutional to use TSA as a mechanism for law enforcement activities that are unrelated to the safety and security of transportation. If TSA is watchlisting people who obviously pose no threat to transportation safety and for reasons that are unrelated to transportation safety then that is a problem.

  39. Hyman Rosen says:

    It’s not true that random checks do nothing. Successfully carrying out an attack requires a series of steps, of which the disruption of any can cause the attack to fail. Random checks provide an opportunity for something to go wrong or to be detected, and thus reduce the probability of an attack succeeding. That’s why secrecy helps also; it is hoped that the attacker has not ferreted out all the details of how he may be detected, and has therefore not completely protected himself.

  40. Hyman Rosen says:

    The courts have decided (http://openjurist.org/482/f2d/893/united-states-v-davis) that airport searches do not violate the Constitution. It is not useful for you to declaim otherwise until a court agrees with you. Also, Appelbaum appears to have been subject to the extra searches when traveling to the United States from other countries, so the extra border check permissions would apply, and I doubt a court would care to make a distinction between agencies carrying out the search..

    • hassenpfeffer says:

      All I can say, Mr. Rosen, is that when VIPR descends upon your neighborhood grocery store when you’re there grabbing a bag of chips and a Coke, I trust you’ll enjoy the rectal search they’ll give you simply for being “suspiciously” hungry. After all, the leading cause of sudden trips to the grocer’s is the marijuana munchies. You probably have a dime bag hidden between your buttcheeks. And marijuana, as the White House so graciously reminded us the other day, has no proven medical value, largely because the government forbids any research into its possible medical value. Enjoying your trip to Wonderland so far?

    • ioerror says:

      This was not a border search. I have had many border searches but this is entirely a TSA forced search. I very much doubt there is any case law on Iceland and the TSA – your court decision is not relevant to my overall harassment.

  41. decius says:

    @google-7d5243d7b8b1658cc7f5ea2354b78375:disqus
    I didn’t say that airport searches are Unconstitutional. To the contrary, I said that they were Constitutional, because of the need to protect the safety of aircraft, which is exactly what the decision you are attempting to reference concluded.

    Where this becomes a problem, is when you are performing a search for another reason, which has nothing to do with safety of aircraft. In that context, the fact that you need to protect the safety of aircraft doesn’t get you anywhere, and so you’re back to explaining why your search is authorized in light of the Fourth Amendment.

    You are correct that there are no strong precedents establishing the bright line that I am describing here. There is some interest writing on this subject in “People vs John Perry Barlow” but he indeed lost that case AFAIK.

    However, I strongly disagree with you that it is “not useful” to assert principals like this until a court signs off on them. Principals are first established through discourse, and courts are sometimes wrong.

    This country’s history is tied to the assertion by James Otis that warrantless searches of houses are Unconstitutional. He lost that case, but as a consequence, warrantless searches are understood to be generally Unconstitutional in the domestic United
    States today. However, we have to allow them to protect the safety of aircraft. In this day and age there is no choice. But if that exception is not, in some way, limited to that specific context, we might as well do away with the whole principal.

    We have to decide where to draw the line.

    I am asserting that we should draw the line when it comes to searches that have nothing to do with the safety of air travel.

    With regard to the TSA piggybacking on the authority of other agencies, the selective screening watchlist we’re talking about here is used domestically as well as on international flights.

  42. decius says:

    For a useful reference on the limits of TSA searches consider this recent 9th circuit ruling:
    -=-=-=-
    http://fourthamendment.com/blog/index.php?blog=1&title=airport_screening_searches_no_longer_con&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

    Although the constitutionality of airport screening searches is not dependent on consent, the scope of such searches is not limitless. A particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it “is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives [and] that it is confined in good faith to that purpose.” Davis, 482 F.2d at 913. 
    -=-=-=-
    When you are throwing people on a watch list for secondary screening for a reason that has nothing to do with aircraft security you are obviously not performing searches that are “confined in good faith to that purpose.”

  43. you should try going into and out of Israel, they interrogate you on the way in, and on the way out…

  44. I enjoyed your write-up and description of your travels via Iceland. Based on my own experiences (see below), I share your perceptions of Iceland’s people as being very friendly, genuine and down-to-earth place that I would gladly visit whenever given the opportunity. 

    My wife and I enjoyed (at least in retrospect) an unusual experience in Reykjavik: We are expatriate Canadians living in the US and working for a European company. We had traveled to Europe via Iceland and were returning the same way. Through a set of circumstances I won’t bore anyone with here, my wife managed to lose her passport (along with her Green Card) somewhere in Reykjavik. First of all, we found the lack of security paranoia amazing: A number of people told us not to worry; someone would undoubtedly find and return her passport. As this happened around 4 PM on a Monday, we hustled over to the main police station to report the loss and found that we could not get anyone to talk to us. We went so far as to walk around the back of the station and chatted with a couple of motorcycle cops that were either coming on shift or off, and they told us to come back in the morning. When my wife asked if there was any crime in Iceland after 4 PM they laughed and said that the criminals get off at 4 PM too and go home.

    Obviously we also reported this to the Canadian embassy, which is a simple, tidy office in a building along with a number of other unrelated businesses and organizations. As they knew we were Green Card holders, and thankfully they called over to the US Embassy and explained the situation to them. The Canadians would arrange for a new, temporary passport but we still had to go and see the US Embassy to get a letter explaining that she had lost her Green Card but she was still legitimate to enter the US. 

    The contrast between the two embassies was startling: The Canadian embassy was a simple, pleasant office. There was one reinforced door between the spacious, bright lobby and the interior offices, and a plexiglass window over an (unused) wicket for issuing visas and other paperwork. We were ushered into a private interview room for our discussions, and we got to meet the ambassador and a number of majordomos during our visit there.

    The US embassy had concrete barriers all along the street for a block in either direction. The entry was guarded by two or three private security contractors dressed in black (Blackwater?), and you had to have an appointment to even enter the building. Once inside, you had to go through an airport-style security screening complete with removing your shoes and going through an X-ray machine. Once past the checkpoint, you get to stay in a very small, dirty and cramped space which seemed to allow for only two activities: being interrogated or paying fees for the same.

    I don’t remember the exact amounts, but in the end I think we paid twice as much to the US for a letter with my wife’s picture on it allowing her a single entry to the US than we paid to Canada for her temporary passport with rush handling. When we arrived in the US, the agents scrutinizing the letter informed my wife that normally they would charge her on the spot for a replacement Green Card, but as it was late and the cashier was gone, she would have to purchase a new Green Card on her own later on. In the end, the people of Rekjavik were right: We got a nice package from the Canadian Embassy there containing my wife’s passport holder, complete with Green Card and all of the other associated items. The Canadians kept her old passport as it had been replaced already, but sure enough someone had turned it in and in the end my wife did not have to buy another Green Card.

    This experience doesn’t have a lot to do with the main theme of Mr. Applebaum’s article, except for the setting, but I think it does shed some light on the strange culture of paranoia, fear and insecurity that has descended on America since 9/11. There have been a lot of great articles written about this by people that I suspect have forgotten more about security than DHS will ever know (for example, Bruce Schnier) , and I am fairly confident that until setting up a “security firm” in Virginia or Maryland doesn’t automatically assure one of a fat and possibly ill-gotten stream of government money, the situation will not improve. Of course the system doesn’t make sense, or provide any meaningful improvement in security, but it most assuredly is more profitable to a growing number of people. If there is any doubt, just check how many people in the US now have a “Top Secret” security clearance compared to a decade ago.
       RehsO

  45. John Gilmore says:

    I was myself on the TSA/DHS ‘terrorist watch list’ for at least 3 years.

    (although I can’t be sure how long – I only discovered when I got a job that suddenly had me flying very frequently, and which ended even before the time I filed with the DHS/TRIPS -Traveler Redress Inquiry Program – to get me off the darn thing)The answer ‘why was I singled out?’ was pretty obvious in my case.  Google “John Gilmore Flying”.  A guy (incidentally, a pretty rich guy) with the same name as me sued John Ashcroft over TSA’s secret travel rules/FAA ID requirements.Clearly a terrorist threat.  I mean, government would never use “terrorist lists” to single out people they find *politically irritating*, would they?  I spent a fun-filled 2yrs getting ‘special screening’ everywhere I went.  I eventually learned to actually use my special status to make my airport time more *efficient*.  No lines, taking off shoes for me, bub – I’m going to initial check-in and asking for a golf-cart ride to a private room and demanding only college-educated TSA screeners of the highest caliber.  It worked most of the time.  Not only that, many of the higher-level screeners seemed more self-aware of the stupidity of the system they were enforcing, and they’d always be amused by my own personal story of mistaken identity.  It was more fun than standing in line like some nobody to be prodded and processed like a piece of meat.  I was a minor celebrity!  I was special!  There was almost a grudging respect by the TSA people – they knew I’d been arbitrarily screwed, and did everything they could to let me know that they sympathized, at least a little.Not always the case however. Sometimes you’d get some overzealous, petit-Gestapo-enthusiasts, people who identify strongly with their day-jobs, and treat every case as an exercise in perfecting their Assertion of Arbitrary Authority.  Not big fans of Kafka, I’d guess.  One of the more amusing cases of Secondary Screening I enjoyed was flying out of Palm Springs of all places, for a (not kidding) meeting of the Association of Dressings and Sauces (don’t ask…. really… its not a high point in my career http://www.dressings-sauces.org/2005_am/program.html).   Keep in mind many of the civic employees in Palm Springs are retirees working part-time…. with the average age of residents somewhere in the 60s-70s… well, it happens the guy at the check-in counter was probably an MP in WWII, and apparently not familiar with the beep that happens when they check-in a Special Screening Candidate.  They were unresponsive to the normal explanation I’d make that charmed the check-in girls elsewhere, and got me my golf cart ride….  No, he hit the Emergency Security button and a half dozen retired policemen shuffled over as fast as they could with batons at the ready.  They dragged me into their break room and proceeded with an arbitrary interrogation that was clearly ad-hoc, and a tad dated =  “Who hit the game winning home run in the 1951 Dodgers/Giants pennant race?”  “Irish name huh?…. yeah, you guys caused a bunch of trouble in the 80s….”  “Whats your purpose for traveling?  Sauces?  Get the %^(*# out of here.  That sounds fishy”  I was basically the most interesting thing to have happened to Palm Springs Airport security in a *long* time.  They eventually decided I probably wasn’t planning to blow myself up, but still prolonged the entire interrogation, because old men love to have a captive audience they can tell stories to.  At one point I was like, “OK, uh, my flight’s getting kinda close, so I think maybe…” and they would get serious again, and be like, “hold on there prisoner, we need to ensure the paperwork is stamped before you’re cleared …..Archie….where’s that damn stamp thing…. in your car?  Again?…. well, go on, get it…. so like I was saying, my nephew, he married an Irish girl,  and man, I warned him!….”I actually kind of miss being a terrorist threat.  My only souvenir of the experience was the letter the DHA/TRIPs people sent me when they finally responded.  It is a masterpiece of bureaucratese.  They could neither acknowledge that I was or wasn’t on a list, or that in fact such any such list existed, but that if in fact there was a list, or lists, and I happened on one that there *might* be new modifications that would help ensure my future travels be more convenient, but they could not acknowledge whether or not any of this had actually taken place and that there was no guarantee that any actual changes to my status had in fact changed, or that there were lists.  But they hoped I had enjoyed working with the DHS and the TSA, because they were committed to the safety and well being of every airline traveler.  Which may or may not have included me.

    I hung it on my fridge for a while, but now I’ve put it in a scrapbook to pass on to future generations to get a laugh out of.

    • ioerror says:

      I have one of those letters too. I have found that my treatment post receipt of said letter hasn’t changed greatly. Did you find that they actually stopped bothering you?

      • John Gilmore says:

        The signal that suggested to me I had been ‘qualified’ (not removed) from the lists was when I could start using the e-tickets again for initial check-in/getting a boarding pass.  This occurred maybe 2 years after originally filing my paperwork with the TRIPs program.  But I was not flying more than a few times a year in between…so I dont know exactly when they figured out how to add an element to their database indicating I *wasn’t* the one they wanted to single-out.   
        More interesting would be knowing if the “Other” John Gilmore (the originator of papersplease.org, and many other interesting things) is still being screwed with.  Perhaps Mr. Edward Hasbrouck who posted here earlier might know.  I’ve joked directly with Other John before about this issue.  I was actually a distant fan of his before this whole thing came up.  Small world.  My original interest in the guy was his EFF support, techno-libertarianism, etc.  We John Gilmore’s are apparently sometimes like-minded as well as like-named.  Which is weird and amusing.  I’m just glad I wasn’t named Gary.To answer your question: no, I don’t get a proper ‘scary beep’ anymore even when I check in manually.  It’s disappointing, frankly.  It used to be a great conversation starter with cute, young, female airline check-in girls.  I feel just like everyone else now.  Bored and frustrated.  I liked it better when I was being ‘oppressed’ by The Man.

        • ioerror says:

          John is a good friend of mine and I passed this story along to him. I think it’s a travesty that you were actually being harassed as a result of his political protest. It is however part of why he protested in the first place and it’s sad to know that he was so right.

          • John Gilmore says:

            I first contacted Other John G. (of *course* i’m the primary one!) around the time of the Napster issue.  I was a fan of his from day one, despite having little relation to many issues/industries he’s been a part of.  I always thought it funny my doppleganger was a millionaire technology-entrepreneur… I think I even bitched at him during my period of being a Terrorist Threat, but mostly because I thought it was funny, and I wanted him to get a laugh out of it as well.  I still support his cause, and if I had more money would do more to support him.  So far, I think I’ve done my part simply being a inadvertent victim of his activism.  More power to him, nevertheless.

  46. Nothing Much says:

    Boycot the airlines. Make them pay. Convince foreigners to stop coming here and spending their money here. If you know someone who works for the DHS, shun them. Make fun of them. Let them know they are second class citizens in your view. You would be amazed at how those people crave affection and acceptance. Deep down, they know they are doing wrong and demand attribution from within their organization to give them the nerve to go on. If you can convince them that in reality they hate the United States, they are not patriotic, and that they hate freedom, it will go a long ways to crippling the ability of the organization to function.

  47. decora says:

    i hope that we will eventually understand what SSSS is, where it came from, and the various agencies and groups responsible for it… just as eventually we discovered some things about the ADEX list from the 20th century, and even about the punch cards lists the Nazis used.

    good luck to you.

    i’d also like to ask you what is the copyright for your boarding pass with the SSSS on it? Id like to add it to wikipedia if you don’t mind.

  48. foo says:

    Don’t identify with those fuckers smug behind their kindness. They are part of the system. There are plenty of jobs elsewhere they could get if they had enough spine to quit.

  49. ehasbrouck says:

    John Gilmore — I’ve called your comments to the attention of the/an other John Gilmore. I’ll leave it to him to  talk about his personal situation and experiences, if he wants to do so. FWIW, I haven’t had my name placed on the TSA’s “selectee” list, despite having incurred the personal animus of TSA officials.

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