John Perry Barlow vs The Man

In September, friend and EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow was arrested at the San Francisco Airport and charged with the misdemeanor possession of controlled substances that had allegedly been discovered during a search of his checked baggage. He was requested to get off the plane (which was about to take off) by an attendant, who escorted him to the baggage claim area.

He led me to an office in the baggage claim area that was thicker with cops than some banana republics. They greeted me with same distaste they'd likely have shown an actual terrorist and treated me accordingly for the remainder of that very long day. On the counter lay small quantities of marijuana (for which I have a physician's recommendation), mushrooms, and ketamine that had allegedly been encountered in my suitcase. That the total volume of this prize was significantly more compact than the amount of high explosive necessary to endanger an aircraft, and indeed, insufficient to merit a felony charge on any count, didn't matter to them. They clearly regarded me as a threat to public safety. When I pointed out to the officials that they only had authority to search for threats to the aircraft, one of them, a bug-eyed, crew-cutted troglodyte, declared that, if I had taken any of these substances, then I would have endangered Flight 310. That such an obviously ungifted person was capable of so imaginative a conceptual leap remains a marvel to me.

After spending the day locked up in the Redwood City jail, Barlow was bailed out by another EFF co-founder, John Gilmore, who put up the $25,000 in cash to spring Barlow. It's a good thing that Barlow has Gilmore on his side, because Gilmore is a wealthy civil libertarian who has been fighting his own battle against creepy secret airport security laws.

Writes Barlow:

We then set about to mount what appears to be the first serious contest of TSA's routinely over-broad searches of checked bags. Apparently, everyone else who has been arrested as a consequences of these inspections, and there have been many, has pled guilty rather than face the cost and trouble of mounting a constitutional defense.

I might have done so myself had it not been for Gilmore's willingness to support the handsome cost of my defense. That, and the recognition that unconstitutional behavior by the authorities is constrained only by the peoples' willingness to contest them. Liberty is preserved not only on the battlefield. More often, it is preserved on the streets, by people who know their rights and refuse to forfeit them at the time of arrest. Failing that, as I did, it is preserved in court. Fortunately, precedent appears to be on my side. The controlling Ninth Circuit case in such matters is US v. Davis (482 F.2d 893) which authorizes warrantless airport searches only for the purpose of detecting weapons and explosives.

The full story on Barlow's blog is worth reading. Good luck John and John!


(Thanks, Bill!)