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Don't Fly During Ramadan (adityamukerjee.net)
2744 points by chimeracoder on Aug 22, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 962 comments



The land of the free.

As I read more and more of those stories I can't help but wonder at how things changed. I am from a formerly-eastern-europe-soviet-bloc country (Poland) and these kinds of oppressive techniques sound very familiar. The haziness of procedures, lack of basic rights, intimidation, no accountability of state officials -- we've seen all that until 1989. At the time, while the communist regime was imposed on us, the USA seemed like heaven: transparency, procedures, basic rights, free speech, accountable officials.

Look at where we are today. I can't even imagine being held captive without arrest for hours, being questioned about the purpose of my trip, about my religion and habits, all while travelling within my country. When entering the country, the passport clerk has exactly two options: let me in, or call the police and get me arrested on the spot. I feel free and I am happy to live in a free country, together with people who because of the past oppressive Soviet regime are quite sensitive to abuses of power.

At the same time, the U.S. is rapidly degenerating into something that isn't quite the sinister oppressive regime, but getting close to the point where it could become one, if a wrong leader gets elected. It's scary.

And the worst thing is -- American people got so used to the idea of living in a free country, that they do not even admit the thought that things are going the wrong way. Most people don't see the signs.


I don't think this is that oppressive. He went through security and set off an explosives detector. The cops showed up and asked some questions. Then he left.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say the government can't hamfistedly accuse you of a crime. All it says is that they have to charge you or let you go in 24 hours, give you a trial, and punish you in a consistent way. They did that here; they asked some questions and they let him go.

You can argue about the techniques; religious questions, not giving him water, but it's all a well-documented psychological game that they're trying to play. If they make the suspect mad, the suspect is more likely to start yelling hysterically without thinking, saving the taxpayer the cost of a long trial. It's worth a try, right? (I think the correct answer to any question is, "my lawyer will answer that. get me my lawyer.")

Anyway, I look at this like the lottery, but in reverse. Sometimes you lose the reverse lottery and a day of your life gets fucked up. But ultimately, life moves on and you have an interesting story. You can say that the government is an oppressive regime that is out to get you for your political views, or you can say you rolled the dice and lost.

Let me ask you this: say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane. How do you do it?


>>Anyway, I look at this like the lottery, but in reverse. Sometimes you lose the reverse lottery and a day of your life gets fucked up. But ultimately, life moves on and you have an interesting story. You can say that the government is an oppressive regime that is out to get you for your political views, or you can say you rolled the dice and lost.

The view you have expressed here demonstrates that you have literally no idea what you are talking about.

It is not a "lottery" when the TSA and their goons are profiling people based on race, religion, income, and a host of other criteria.


The explosives detection machinery doesn't care what you look like or believe.

I don't know about you, but I want the TSA / FBI / NYPD to look into it so that they're sufficiently convinced the individual is not a threat.


Chemical detection doesn't even get used except under "random" search.

There are so many chemicals to test for, and so many of them have other common uses that using chemical tests as a proxy for malicious intent has poor accuracy. Even assuming tests are extremely accurate, false positive rates would still massively exceed the incidence of threats.

What you look like will greatly increase your odds of being "randomly" searched and thereby odds of false positive chemical detection, at which point what you believe may become a liability during your interrogation.

Having an objective mechanism in the mix doesn't really put a dent how culturally and racially biased the present solution is.

Whether you feel a need for there to be such a system in place only changes whether such a bias is a matter of xenophobic overreach or a technical weakness against threats that resemble the majority.


It wasn't a "random" search. Any time you opt out of the millimeter wave scanner, you get a hand pat-down and your baggage is swabbed for explosives.


Even the "random" searches (the ones that start with "you have been selected for a random search") are rarely random.


Once they've determined he isn't carrying actual explosives he shouldn't be considered a threat anymore. The detection machine might single you out for additional searching, but once the search is complete you should be free to go.


This. The craziness of "he set of the detection machine but it's clearly a false-positive, but now that he's on our radar let's grill him in case he just happens to be a terrorist" should be obvious to anyone.


Yes, IMHO it comes from this: What would be on the news if he was a terrorist and they find out that he actually set off the explosives detector before doing his deed? So basically their response is more about fear of embarrassment (to an extreme) than actual effectiveness.


It is also about a lack of accountability. There is no penalty for going to town on the guy - for them its just a more exciting day on the job - for him it's a humiliating loss of personal autonomy.


> for them its just a more exciting day on the job

Yes. Get into their mentality. The lower ranks are underpaid would be burger flippers and In-and-Out. The go through their boring day pushing prodding people. If they get to "interrogate" someone or humiliate him or show off their power just like a bully would in the cafeteria you betcha they'll take advantage of that.


"What would be on the news if he was a terrorist and they find out that he actually set off the explosives detector before doing his deed?"

Yeah, Schneier calls it Cover Your Ass Security. It's not super effective ..

https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/02/cya_security_...


>Once they've determined he isn't carrying actual explosives he shouldn't be considered a threat anymore. //

Because people who handle explosives and cover it up when questioned, and aren't involved in handling explosives in their day job, are completely to be trusted?

Surely once they've determined he isn't carrying explosives they need to be sure as possible, if he claims not to have been around any explosives, that he's telling the truth; in order to reduce the risk that he's going to use explosives in an illegal way and/or manner dangerous to life. Don't people who're manufacturing explosives in secret deserve at least a passing glance to see what they're doing with them.

It looks here like they checked his apartment to corroborate his statements.

Now if they've established there are no traces of explosive present - for example they confirm the cause of a false-positive - that's different.


Er.. No.

The problem with your line of thought is that you trust that machine to be somewhat reliable. We don't _really_ learn what set off the machine, but the author's guess is an over the counter spray..

If that's the high tech "You need to endure this process for the greater good, since the machine claims you're a threat" world you like to live in, I .. opt out. That thing is obviously next to useless and probably as effective as a look in the eyes of the stranger, with your gut deciding if he's going to stay put for the rest of the day or if he's allowed to move on.

IFF we had a reliable, working test with little to no false positive due to f*ing everyday stuff (or .. bad luck, being a 'random' match), THEN you might have a point. Right now, you don't.


>your line of thought is that you trust that machine to be somewhat reliable //

And your problem is you assume the machine isn't reliable. So then if it's set off, you just say "ah well, it's probably a false reading". At that point you just obviated the purpose of the machine.

Yes we don't learn whether it was the permethrin (? can't certainly recall the name) but the people who did the sweep of his apartment confirmed that there were no other indications of explosives manufacture [or you can plump for the slightly less cynical - 'the questioning confirmed he was not a threat'].

There's likely always going to be some false-positives: the needs of the many, yadda, yadda.

>IFF we had a reliable, working test with little to no false positive due to fing everyday stuff* //

Can you post your source and the pertinent stats for the number of false-positives for explosives detection at airports in the USA please.


Our friend Bayes and his theorem can help us here. Suppose you have an HIV test which is 95% accurate in detecting if you are HIV positive or not. The HIV rate in the US is about 0.3%.

If you subject a random American to this HIV test and the test result is positive, what is the probability that that person has HIV? I wont do the math, but the right answer is about 2%. Since the prevalence of HIV is so low it doesn't matter how accurate the test it, it will still generate many times more false positives than true ones.

Same thing with bombs. The number of American air passengers/year is about 800 million/year and of them, at most 5 are carrying explosives. Even if the bomb detector is 99.9% accurate it will generate thousands of false positives for each real bomb it catches.


It turns out when you actually get tested for HIV, they do two tests. One has a high false positive rate but a low false negative rate. If that comes positive, they do a second test that's the other way around.


It also turns out that we don't test everyone for HIV. In what I am sure is some form of irony, we probably test more folks for carrying bombs than we do for having HIV. When the numbers show there are more folks with HIV in America than there are those carrying bombs.


What that means is that people who trip these explosives detectors should be politely treated while it is determined whether or not they actually have explosives, since they are likely not really carrying explosives.

But this doesn't mean that scanning for explosives is a bad idea, or that people should just be merrily flagged to go on their way, otherwise what is the point of doing any screening?

After all, the vast, vast majority of passengers are just trying to go from point A to point B so each and every single scanning method will generate thousands of false positives every year.


That's weird. You're turning the argument on its head.

YOU started supporting the process and said something like Don't people who're manufacturing explosives in secret..

Well, based on what evidence? The machine that detects chemicals here? It seems that this supports my claim, you think that machine is 'working' and somewhat reliable. Without having provided any kind of proof or source, by the way.

The article, the author, proceeds to talk about potential chemicals to set off the detector (and we had more posts like this over the years, for example from people working with plants, farmers etc). Chemicals you're able to get everywhere.

If that is a known issue and this machine can beep if

a) you've built a bomb

b) you've moved your plants from inside the house to your garden

then you should reevaluate the idea of this particular test in the first place. The author writes that one participant in that theater claimed to know the exact substance that triggered the detector. Really? In that case it should be possible to

- dismiss the idea, it's stupid. That stuff? Everyone can buy it

- ask disguised/hidden questions to reveal if he used one of the gazillion things that might trigger this warning and leave the man alone

The option

- keep him, make him feel like a criminal, treat him in an inhuman (no water..? Really?) way for as long as it takes to break into his appartment

is really not on the list of things you can rationally describe as necessary. That's insane.

Ah, well. I come up empty handed at the end and cannot provide a source for the reliability of the detectors used in the US of A. I guess that makes my whole post moot. Obviously you don't need to provide the same thing, since "It's used at the airports, certainly it works!"?


> If that is a known issue and this machine can beep if a) you've built a bomb, b) you've moved your plants from inside the house to your garden, then you should reevaluate the idea of this particular test in the first place.

It's more complicated than that. Anecdotal evidence suggests the trace analysis machine has a very low false positive rate. The fact that agents are trained to re-run the test repeatedly also suggests the machine has a very low false negative rate.

Given a sufficiently low false positive and false negative rate, the right answer may be, if it repeatedly triggers on a passenger, to question that passenger further.

Of course, with increasing reliability of the test comes increasingly severe questioning when the test repeatedly fails. In theory you want the level of the response to be commensurate with the reliability of the test. A perfect test convicts you as soon as you fail it. An imperfect test such as this requires humans to actually follow-up and investigate the failure.

The tactics, ethics, and legality of the how that investigation proceeds... I think that's another matter entirely, from whether we should be employing trace analysis in airports in the first place.


You can't tell between the moving plants and making bombs because materials in one can be used for the other.


> It looks here like they checked his apartment to corroborate his statements.

Checked? That's being charitable. You mean it's okay to break into someone's apartment without a warrant and steal shit? What happened to the rule of law? Having said that, we don't know who broke in or what happened.


Not that the whole story isn't appalling, but why would you assume the break-in was without a warrant?

"This guy set off explosive detectors at the airport. He claimed it was because of chemicals he used while moving. We'd like to check his story out by searching his place." Looks to me like that could convince a judge.


I didn't say anything about trust. What I meant was he wasn't a threat to that particular flight. If the aim of the TSA is to keep a plane from blowing up, they've already accomplished it. Anything beyond that is just a fishing expedition. Given that they know their tests will detect compounds that aren't explosives this seems over the top.


Did you and I even read the same story?! The guy was clearly being profiled on race and religious background, not just the false positive of the explosives machine.


I'm not sure if you understand what "profiled" means. He was pulled into questioning because he repeatedly set off the bomb detector. The questions about race/religion weren't profiling, because they weren't used to select him for additional scrutiny. They are part of a psychological battery designed to evaluate him without a harsh interrogation. These sorts of batteries were pioneered by the Israelis and are very effective.


An FBI agent in the article:

"You’ll have to understand, when a person of your… background walks into here, traveling alone, and sets off our alarms, people start to get a bit nervous. I’m sure you’ve been following what’s been going on in the news recently. You’ve got people from five different branches of government all in here - we don’t do this just for fun."

That's profiling.

Edit to add: in other words "The questions about race/religion weren't profiling, because they weren't used to select him for additional scrutiny" is false. They even admitted to subjecting him to additional security because of his "background".


What an investigator says during an investigation isn't testimonial. There isn't even any obligation that it be truthful; it's OK for investigators to lie in the hope that it'll lead the suspect to incriminate themselves.

Simple example: Cop tells Joe Blow that they have a witness to the crime, and Joe Blow may as well confess. Joe Blow makes a full confession. Turns out there was no witness. Perfectly legit; what Joe Blow should have said (if anything) was 'there couldn't be, because I didn't commit that crime.'

Yes, that means that agents of the state (LEOs, prosecutors etc.) have an incentive to misbehave, but in the common law system the adversarial nature of the legal process allows the defense to challenge that. In a civil law system the investigating officer is supposed to be compelled to search for truth above all else, but if the investigating officer is corrupt or inefficient it is much harder to challenge in court, and defense attorneys are much less aggressive on behalf of their clients.


I don't think I understand how your point applies here. The FBI agent's admission to having profiled the OP seem to be just that; I'm not sure how it could have been a ruse to get him to admit something. If we believe the story, it constitutes strong evidence that he was being profiled, and we should certainly see it that way and be outraged accordingly.

In terms of courts, I'm not sure what context we're talking about, since there are no courts involved. IANAL, but if the OP were to sue, rules about testimonial hearsay don't apply because it would be a civil case, not a criminal one. Even if it were criminal (if the OP had been arrested and was mounting a defense or the FBI agent was, I guess, arrested?), it's not obvious to me that the agent's statement qualifies, since its purpose has to be to assist the investigation. And finally, the rule that police are allowed to lie to get you to confess (as in your example) is actually separate from whether it's testimonial or not, and simply hinges on whether it's coercive. If I understand it, the testimonial hearsay rule as applied to cops lying is for when the cop says, "Oh, it's no problem; I make bombs at home too" in that it doesn't allow the defense to say, "see that cop makes bombs!" So that's all to say I don't understand what all that has to do with whether the OP was being profiled or not. Possibly I misunderstood something or have my legal facts wrong, though; can you clarify?

Edit to add: but regardless, it shouldn't change how much we're outraged at home, assuming we believe the OP's story, which I certainly do.


>What an investigator says during an investigation isn't testimonial. There isn't even any obligation that it be truthful; it's OK for investigators to lie in the hope that it'll lead the suspect to incriminate themselves.

Who cares if it's legal testimony? It's still racial profiling, which is still uncool for any reason.


Exactly. TO quote the dude, You're not wrong, you're just an asshole


> It's profiling.

No, it's not. He was picked because he set off explosive detectors. Repeatedly.

The racial opinions of the person asking the questions doesn't change the fact that this is not racial profiling.


The question is not why he was "picked" to be investigated. The question is why he was kept so long even after it was determined that he did not, in fact, have explosives, and why he was questioned at such length and aggressiveness. The opinions of the people interrogating him are precisely what determine that, as explained by the actual person interrogating him. It really couldn't be any more straightforward.


A non-transient false-positive does not typically get you the sort of treatment that the author got. Usually you are out of there in minutes.


The FBI agent's statement rephrased in boolean logic:

  nervous = background && companions && alarm
If the value of alarm is false, nobody gets nervous because the whole expression evaluates to false.

The FBI agent did not say "You are being subjected to additional screening because of your background and because you're traveling alone". That they are nervous because of his background and lack of companions is orthogonal to the fact that the additional screening happened because of the positive match for explosives.

Or are you suggesting that if a white person traveling with companions matched positive for explosives, that they wouldn't be subjected to additional screening?


I think you're missing that there is a sequence of things that happens here:

  1. he sets off the chemical detector
  2. he is pulled aside for questioning
  3. in that questioning, they discover he has a background that makes them nervous
  4. they hold him for a great deal more questioning
1->2 is standard and would happen to anyone. As other people have pointed out in this thread, it generally takes 15 minutes and is no big deal. It certainly doesn't involve the FBI. While it's never happened to me, it's happened to several people I know and while it was a bit of a hassle, it did not come anywhere near this.

The alarms have already gotten us to 2, and they're not even nervous yet, because they don't know his background and, like you said, without the background being true, the whole expression evaluates to false. That's why the 3->4 transition is a problem, and that's where the profiling comes in. The agent's explanation isn't some non-sequitur, like "yeah, this is totally standard and incidentally we're nervous". He's explaining why they're holding him longer and have brought in agents from five different departments instead of just having a TSA guy chat with him and send him on his way. Notice the escalation as they become more concerned; they care about his background because it makes them think he might be a terrorist. Holding people for questioning when they're nervous that the passenger is a terrorist is actually their job. That's why they did so much, even to the point that they felt the need to explain it.

If answers about his background would not change their behavior towards him, why would they ask about it all? The whole point of gathering information is so that you can make decisions with it.

So then we get to the crux of it: his background makes them nervous and their nervousness causes them to subject him to additional scrutiny, above and beyond the screening he would have endured had he set off the alarm and not had a nervousness-causing background. That's profiling.


I believe the issue with the alarm is that most people don't repeatedly flag the same alarm.

E.g. if a given test were to generate a false positive, you would expect that it wouldn't generate a false positive the next time if run on the same article, especially if the machine correctly doesn't alert on other innocuous articles.

So in the normal situation someone sets of the chemical detector, once, gets pulled aside for questioning. Their gear doesn't set off the detector again and so the agents are able to conclude it's a false alarm.

To be clear, I don't agree with the treatment OP received in this case, but I fail to see how it is sinister that someone repeatedly sets off chemical detector alarms (that no one else sets off repeatedly), has burned all ties to his residence, is religious and is going up to meet family for a religious gathering.

It's not that such behavior is automatically suspicious, it's that the behavior is still almost indistinguishable from those who previously have caused terrorist attacks.

In this case the FBI agent isn't trying to prove OP a terrorist as much as he's trying hard (and failing) to prove that he's not.


> if a given test were to generate a false positive, you would expect that it wouldn't generate a false positive the next time if run on the same article

I don't think that's true. Remember that the test doesn't actually detect bombs. It detects certain chemicals. Now, sometimes it might just randomly report a false positive and then you'd expect it not to trigger the second time. But some of the chemicals it is built to detect can be found in everyday products, such as hair products, soaps, some medications, and--as I learned today--bug spray. And so for those chemicals, it's going trigger repeatedly because the chemical it's looking for really is there. So that second failure mode is actually pretty common, and so even when that happens, it's normal to take the person into a side room, search them more throughly, talk to them for a few minutes, and send them on their way. What we see here is quite different.

Which leads us to the real reason, which you wrote:

> It's not that such behavior is automatically suspicious, it's that the behavior is still almost indistinguishable from those who previously have caused terrorist attacks.

That's precisely profiling: "the bad guys have profile x and you fit profile x, so we think you are suspicious" where x isn't inherently suspicious. It sounds like you're saying, "profiling isn't such a bad idea", which I strongly disagree with, but I suppose that's a different discussion.


> So that second failure mode is actually pretty common, and so even when that happens, it's normal to take the person into a side room, search them more throughly, talk to them for a few minutes, and send them on their way.

From what I am hearing from others, normally people barely even get that much special treatment after a non-transient false positive. Agents suggesting "Maybe it was 'Innocuous Product X'" so the passenger can say "Yup, that is probably it" seems to be common, but not the sort of treatment they are going to give to people that they have a bias against.


> E.g. if a given test were to generate a false positive, you would expect that it wouldn't generate a false positive the next time if run on the same article, especially if the machine correctly doesn't alert on other innocuous articles.

Well yes, I would. Some false positives can be transient, others are not. If I just came from the shooting range I would not be surprised if I got a non-transient false-positive. Now that is an obvious case and I would immediately tell them that I had been to the shooting range, likely resolving the issue, but it is just a simple example of a false positive that is not transient.

How common is a non-transient false-positive where the victim doesn't immediately have a good idea what the cause is? Well, there are several reports from HN users in this thread that describe situations in which it could allegedly occur. One cites hand lotion as a potential cause of non-transient false-positives; luckily for his wife the agents volunteered that hypothesis so she wasn't left guessing. The author of the article supposes that an over-the-counter chemical was the cause of his non-transient false positive; it's not like he was a lab tech working with synthesized stuff that nobody else ever comes into contact with.

Unless the machines are shit (a distinct possibility), I would expect transient false-positives to be relatively infrequent while non-transient false-positives would be reliably and regularly caused by a wide range of substances that share chemical properties with known explosives.

Most of these non-transient false positives are likely quickly resolved without much ado. His was not.

Edit:

Perhaps the real problem here is with the terminology. These machines are not really bomb detectors, or even explosive detectors. They are chemical detectors. Calling them bomb or explosive detectors is like calling a metal detector a "gun detector". Sure, finding those things may be why it is there, but that is not actually what it does.


> Well, there are several reports from HN users in this thread that describe situations in which it could allegedly occur

Which makes the detectors useless as an interrogation tool.

If the alarm sounds, then check the person for explosives. That makes perfect sense, it's a useful tool for finding explosives on people.

But if you cannot find explosives on the person, what do you do then?

Any even slightly training terrorist is going to know what other products would produce the same detection result as the bomb they just built. So they'll pretend to think for a while, and then say "I work in a supermarket, and a customer dropped hand lotion on the floor this morning, and I had to wipe it up... can that set off your machine?"

It seems like there's a magic answer you can give that will let you go free, you just need to know the right thing to say. If the investigator likes you (i.e. thinks you're probably not a terrorist) they'll give you hints about what you should say. If they don't then you're on your own.

Someone who can give the right answer is either:

* Good at analysis, so they can make a good guess of what might be setting of the machine.

* Someone who's been through this before

* Someone who got a friendly hint from the investigator

* A not-so-dumb terrorist

Someone who can't give the answer is either:

* A normal person

* A dumb terrorist

Given the low prevalence of terrorists, that would be the least likely explanation in either scenario, so the whole line of questioning is pretty much useless, except as a way of applying pressure to someone who you've decided is worth applying pressure to. When that decision is based on some genuine piece of evidence, then it might be a legitimate law enforcement technique. When it's based on the gut-feel of the officers in question, it becomes a front for racial profiling.


> if a given test were to generate a false positive, you would expect that it wouldn't generate a false positive the next time if run on the same article

The last time I was travelling, I set of the metal detector in an airport in Germany. They took me aside and used the hand metal detector. It also went off. So they patted me down and scanned me again - the alarm still went off. So they patted me down a second time and scanned me again and the alarm still went off.

They then sent me on my way and I had no further hassle for the rest of the trip.


I understand what you mean now. Your original statement was:

  They even admitted to subjecting him to additional security because
  of his "background".
This is ambiguous and can be interpreted in more than one way. How I interpreted what you said:

  1. He sets off the chemical detector
  2. He is pulled aside for "additional security"
You can see why I disagreed as anybody ought to be pulled aside for additional security if they set off an explosives detector. Upon reading your reply, the interpretation you were going for was:

  1. He sets off the chemical detector
  2. He is pulled aside for "additional security"
  3. They probe into his background to build a profile
  4. This profile yields further rounds of "additional security"
     that people not matching that profile wouldn't be subject to
I lack knowledge on whether or not making security-related decisions based on a profile is useful or irrelevant, so I'll bow out of this aspect of the conversation.


Ah, I see. Yeah, I meant, "additional" as in "above and beyond the standard reaction to setting off the detector". Sorry for the confusion.


We should be more precise.

> "... because he repeatedly set off the bomb detector."

No, the initial pat-down set off a chemical detector. He set it off once before being pulled into the private room. From that point on, it doesn't matter how many more times it was set off. It shouldn't increase the level of suspicion each time.

Would they have let him go if one time it suddenly stopped giving a positive signal? I doubt it.

> "These sorts of batteries were pioneered by the Israelis and are very effective."

But this is not how the Israelis run their security procedures, so the comparison isn't fair. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Gurion_Airport#Security_pro...


I .. don't want to offend and all (Amir? Sounds Israeli to me, but I don't claim to be an expert).

But this 'It works so well at Ben Gurion' statements get old, really quick. It doesn't.

Traveling to TLV is fine and no problem. Getting out just sucks. I feel treated like shit every single time, it's just borderline acceptable half the time (the other half it's really, really annoying, causing delays and trouble, stupid, braindead, unnecessary, idiotic, etc. etc.).

This coming from a German that lived for one year in TLV and works for a company that sits in IL, so I've been there before my relocation and afterwards. Currently I'm at 14 or 15 visits only, so .. my data points are obviously too few and I just managed to pick the wrong time? Right?

Previous: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5866764

Short version: No, the Israeli version doesn't make you feel like a human being either, most of the time.


I wasn't clear enough in my comment. My point was that the entire process is different, so to single out the piece regarding questioning and suggesting that it works in this other context is not a fair comparison (regardless of how good/bad the Ben Gurion approach is overall).

Also, I'm not in the slightest bit offended. I'm not Israeli and although my name is Persian in origin (I think?), I'm British. When I travel to the US, I usually get sent to 'secondary', so I've hsd a little experience with this type of questioning. It's just tedious.


The Israeli procedures are kinda interesting, the second you enter the airport you are put in a line, you'll probably end up waiting in that line for about 15 min before you get to the "questioners" but once you're through everything else is really quick, especially the formal security check, you don't have to take off your shoes, remove your wallet, keys, etc or even take your laptop out of it's bag, just drop your bags on the belt, and walk through metal detector. Easily my favorite airport.


I wish I were wealthy enough to buy you a return ticket to Rome Ciampino airport, or Pisa for that matter and let you experience some of the easiest airports I've ever been to. Not like taking the train, but close… Anywhere else I've been including UK, US, Ukraine Odessa, etc, there's intimidation in the air, ready to hit. And that's really unpleasant.


If the explosives machinery did indeed detect permethrin, then they still have a lot to account for. Excuse me if I doubt that a white Christian would have faced the same ordeal and found their home burglarized over insect repellant.


the problem is that as a Caucasian male even if i were to test positive for the same chemical and didn't realize the source I highly doubt I would have been detained for more than an hour or two


> It is not a "lottery" when the TSA and their goons are profiling people based on race

In this story, they were profiling based on the fact that the person set off explosive detectors. Repeatedly.

The fact that he was later questioned by tactless people making veiled racial hints doesn't change the fact that he wasn't racially profiled. A Caucasian would have been detained just the same.


> "set off explosive detectors. Repeatedly."

If I walk back and forth through a metal detector with a belt buckle multiple times, do I become increasingly suspicious each time it beeps?


It's nothing at all like going through a metal detector with your belt on. Metal detectors check your present state, trace analysis checks your PAST state.

False positives are possible, I've had it happen to me. When "the machine beeped", I got a thorough pat-down and re-swabbed, and the next time "the machine did not beep" and I was on my way.

It's my understanding that TSA agents will not allow someone to pass who is consistently setting off the explosives alarm. What would be the purpose of checking for trace explosives residue if the agents simply disregard it when it triggers?

Of all the 'sigint' they collect on each passenger, I would bet a "repeated trace analysis fail" ranks up there with carrying box cutters as one of the more alarming indicators an agent has to deal with.

It sounds like the agents did everything they could to try to get a green light from trace analysis. Failing that, the passenger is obviously red flagged and it's "all systems go" to determine if they are really a threat. I can't imagine how else they would handle it.


Passing a belt buckle through a metal detector repeatedly and passing a sample through an explosives detector repeatedly demonstrates nothing except that the alarm was not transient.

Just because it isn't transient doesn't mean it isn't a false positive as this story demonstrates.

With such an overwhelmingly massive chance that the alert was a false positive, the response the author received is indefensible.


They were specifically highlighting the pointless use of the word "repeatedly" for emphasis, I believe. Well of course it happened "repeatedly"; they just repeated the same test with the same articles.


At the very least it confirms suspicions that you do in fact have metal on you. By removing doubt, you do increase suspicion.


It doesn't confirm that the machine results were not a false positive, it only provides you with some assurance that the results were not transient: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6260688


So....in other words you are provided with more assurance of your suspicions. Thus increased suspicion.


Though you may call them explosive detectors, they aren't. They're chemical detectors, specifically mass spectrometers. All they can do is detect chemicals, and they obviously can't tell the difference between some common chemicals and a true explosive device.


Though I agree with the notion that racism is wrong, the issue of racial profiling is not as simple as we would want it to be. If we accept that the TSA is an organization of limited resources, and that any failure to capture a terrorist would have unspeakably terrible consequences, then it would be reasonable to try to optimize our efforts at thwarting terrorism.

It is the case that there exist certain profiles that would make a person more predisposed to terrorism (but I'm not claiming that I know what they are, nor do I feel that deciding what those profiles are is a decision to be taken lightly in the least). An equivalent statement would be to say that there are profiles -- such as being very old -- that would make a person less predisposed to acts of terrorism of this sort. So does it not follow that we should attempt to optimize given these conditions?

Note that I wholly agree with the objections to constitutional rights being violated in the account presented in the article, and I can understand the stance against any kind of profile. But it cannot be claimed that racial profiling has no good arguments going for it.

I personally am not entirely decided on what the appropriate course of action is in this matter; profiling is a more complicated issue than we may like it to be.


I don't think this is that oppressive. He went through security and set off an explosives detector. The cops showed up and asked some questions. Then he left.

This is a vast mischaracterization of what happened.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say the government can't hamfistedly accuse you of a crime. All it says is that they have to charge you or let you go in 24 hours, give you a trial, and punish you in a consistent way. They did that here; they asked some questions and they let him go.

He was detained without arrest, based on minimal suspicions. Yes, he should have shut the hell up and not answered questions.

You can say that the government is an oppressive regime that is out to get you for your political views, or you can say you rolled the dice and lost.

Except these dice are heavily weighted against you if you are brown and/or non-christian.

say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane. How do you do it?

That's not happening here. He was not detained because he had an explosive or firearm, he was detained because he was subject to a different level of scrutiny than the other passengers who went through the scanner.


> He was detained without arrest, based on minimal suspicions. Yes, he should have shut the hell up and not answered questions.

Minimal suspicions? A young male flying alone who refuses the scanner and sets of the explosives detector?

Yes, he absolutely should have been cooperative and answered their questions after that. I always refuse the scanner, but I don't complain afterward that I have to answer questions and get a "firm" pat down (there is nothing "firm" about them, btw, they are overly careful and respectful if anything).

And if I ever set off the explosive detector, my first reaction wouldn't be how unfair it was that "harried" employees were "rudely" explaining that my options were leaving or a private pat down. That would seem utterly reasonable to me.


> And if I ever set off the explosive detector, my first reaction wouldn't be how unfair it was that "harried" employees were "rudely" explaining that my options were leaving or a private pat down. That would seem utterly reasonable to me.

He was told that leaving was not one of his choices. Even after pointing out the illegality of that to the security official, he was told that if he left, he would forfeit his luggage, including any electronics. So essentially, leaving was not one of his choices. Also, having his house broken into and possibly bugged does not seem utterly reasonable to me.


> Also, having his house broken into and possibly bugged does not seem utterly reasonable to me.

Now c'mon. By treating this like fact given the evidence from the story, you are engaging in the same unjust leaps and "profiling" that people are accusing the TSA of. No one, including the author, knows what happened to his picture or if any law enforcment agency was involved in its disappearance.


I'm not treating the bugged part as fact. I do believe that there's at least a 99% chance that there was a break-in and that it was related to his interrogation.


> I always refuse the scanner

Would you mind to share your reasoning as to why you elect to forgo this option ? It would appear to me having a machine scan you is less intrusive than a full body search by a human agent.


I do it for a few reasons.

1) It requires agents turn away from their normal tasks and clogs up the works to some degree. I disagree with the program and opting for the pat-down is a legal action I can take that will, ever so briefly, disrupt it.

2) I do it in the hope that the agents doing the pat-down will be uncomfortable while doing so. Any legal action I can take that makes their job ever-so-slightly more unpleasant is something that I will do. If it were done en-masse and people in their personal lives ostracized them for their job, then maybe (just maaaybe) the TSA would experience higher turnover.

3) To add one more data-point to the agents' awareness that a portion of the population does not approve of them or their job.

4) So that other people waiting in the line can see me skip the full body scan and learn that they can as well.

5) So that I get to tell other people what I just told you.


Personally, I decline the scans because it's my one way of protesting the security theater and its enormous waste. It's the one thing I'm allowed to decline, so I decline it.


Here's a really good way to protest security theater (albeit very much at your expense): write SSSS [1] on your boarding pass, and see how you're treated! (Security officers can write SSSS on your boarding pass, so it doesn't need to be printed on the pass, so this will work...)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_Security_Screening_Se...


I do it also, because I don't trust them to not save the images, and I suspect the images will either get hacked by or flat-out sold to a third party later. The pat-down doesn't make me feel like I'm being raped, although I guess I can see why others would be uncomfortable.


I don't think this is that oppressive.

Yeah, well, it didn't happen to you, did it?

He went through security and set off an explosives detector. The cops showed up and asked some questions. Then he left.

"We gave him free room and board for 17 years, then laid him on a comfortable bed and gave him some medicine to make him fall asleep for a while".

vs.

"We kept him caged in a tiny, windowless cell and gave him just enough stale bread and dirty water to keep him alive for 17 years, then we executed him."

Details matter, dude.


In this case, the pertinent detail is the fact the man set of explosive detectors.

The other details, far from suggesting oppressive state apparatus, suggested an assortment of rent-a-cops and airline staff that really weren't particularly well-prepared for the guy that couldn't account for the explosives and flagged other profiling alarms without actually giving any indication of being an actual threat. If you want to oppress someone you do a lot more than keep them waiting whilst you try and figure out who's best positioned to ask less silly questions.

The most objectionable behaviour was arguably JetBlue's decision to refuse to honour the return ticket, and you'd struggle to argue that was part of the crushing state apparatus.


In this case, the pertinent detail is the fact the man set of explosive detectors.

I'd argue that the pertinent detail is that he wasn't actually carrying any explosives.

The other details, far from suggesting oppressive state apparatus, suggested an assortment of rent-a-cops and airline staff that really weren't particularly well-prepared for the guy that couldn't account for the explosives and flagged other profiling alarms without actually giving any indication of being an actual threat.

A State doesn't have to be a finely-tuned, well-oiled, smoothly functioning machine to be oppressive. It just has to institutionalize (or just tolerate) the kind of treatment we saw here. If some of the individuals involved are simply bungling incompetents who more or less mean well, does that make the overall process less oppressive? I argue that it doesn't.


And because he turned out not to be carrying any explosives, he was let go. As above, what would you do if someone set off an explosives detector? Investigations should certainly be conducted politely and respectfully, but at the same time they need to be persistent enough to deal with the attempts of guilty parties to conceal the truth.


As above, what would you do if someone set off an explosives detector?

I pat them down, and search their luggage. If I don't find a bomb, I let them go. It should take 3-5 minutes, tops. What I don't do is detain them for hours, grille them over and over again, and deny them food and water during the detainment.

but at the same time they need to be persistent enough to deal with the attempts of guilty parties to conceal the truth.

It doesn't even matter what they say, they either are or aren't carrying a bomb. That can be determined through physical inspection. Persistence doesn't enter into it.


> I pat them down, and search their luggage. If I don't find > a bomb, I let them go. It should take 3-5 minutes, tops.

He had checked luggage.


Don't checked luggage go through bomb detection and the like? Actually I'd be inclined to believe they go through even more rigorous checks than people and their carry-on luggage. iirc, they're stored in bomb-resistant containers inside of aircraft, too, ever since a bombing with a bomb in checked luggage some time ago (80's, I think)


Which is already scanned for explosives by default, no?


Do you think the authorities behaved in a polite and respectful manner? I don't actually care if they do, I don't think that's a requirement; what I do care about is that they follow the law first, then use common sense. Detaining him for more than 30 minutes is very close to actionable in a sane legal world. Just because the TSA, FBI, and the local PD are full of bungling, ignorant idiots doesn't make what happened to the author less of a crappy thing.


I will argue that politeness and respect are actually essential, because otherwise that's where racism, etc., creep in. Impoliteness and disrespect set up a hostile atmosphere in which matters escalate and the cops/TSA/gov people feel threatened and thus justified in using more authority, while the "suspect" feels threatened and thus justified in pushing back or trying to get out by more dramatic means. This is where bad stuff starts happening despite everyone's "best intentions" and this is the place that white people who set off chemical detectors simply don't get to. (It's the same dynamic that can lead to bad police-minority relations -- the difference between leading with "I'm sorry sir, but we'll have to frisk you" or "You causing trouble? What are you doing here?")


How accurate is the explosives detector? What is the rate of false positives?


> Investigations should certainly be conducted politely and respectfully, but at the same time they need to be persistent enough to deal with the attempts of guilty parties to conceal the truth.

Do they really? How often do planes blow up because of a bomb a passenger brought on? Once a decade? Less than that? I'm frankly willing to live with those odds if it means I don't have to take my shoes off and submit to molestation every time I get on a flight.


I'm not sure whether you're arguing the state was "oppressive" because it had the temerity to put in place a policy of investigating people that set off explosive detectors, or because they weren't competent enough to establish his innocence within minutes, but I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on both counts

Minimal security theatre isn't oppression, and neither is bungling for five hours.

Let's put things into perspective here. The Syrian government gasses its people largely indiscriminately. The Egyptian government shoots those guilty of the crime of public protest. This guy was, based on reasonable suspicion... asked more questions than competent interrogators would have bothered with and left rather thirsty and ticketless at the end.


Minimal security theatre isn't oppression, and neither is bungling for five hours.

Yep, we'll have to agree to disagree. As far as I'm concerned, being detained against your will for five minutes is oppressive.

But, I'm a radical individualist who believes in the primacy and sovereignty of the individual and who barely tolerates the idea of the modern nation-state at all. So I'm fairly biased.


Just because things are not as bad as they are in Syria or Egypt, doesn't mean we should not be seriously troubled by the conduct of our government. We should not have to wait until citizens are getting murdered in the streets by our government before we get concerned.


True, but I'd put "temporarily detains person who argues with security after setting off explosive detectors in airport" near the bottom of the list of reasons to be concerned, a long way below issues like "has death sentence" or even "has schoolchildren pledge their allegiance to the flag every day"

It's not even like there isn't a reason for increased security at US airports in the last 15 years.


The idea that authoritarianism requires competent enforcers is false. The Gestapo, the NKVD, the Stasi, the SD were all full of losers who were the mall cops and malcontents of their day. What they did have in common were a lust for power.


You miss the point. The most obvious explanation for the author's experience is that it was unpleasant because, rather than in spite of the various parties' inability to handle the situation. They were fumbling over what to do rather than lusting for power, and if anything half the problem was down to nobody having enough authority to insist that no further questions were necessary.

Of course, that's only an interpretation, and it's possible the individuals involved gain visceral thrills from asking questions about being "somewhat religious" or "very religious" and laughing as their fellow henchmen misunderstand the concept of venture capital, and only the last vestiges of American law prevented them from responding to his request for a drink by waterboarding him. It's possible they asked ignorant questions about Hinduism and then called their crack Hindi-speaking agent as part of a cunning plan to deter non-Christians from ever flying again. It's just.... I'm sure the concept of Hanlon's razor has come up on HN a few times before?


And you missed my point. I'm saying that it doesn't matter whether his experience is due to incompetence or malice. The fact is that his experience is not a black swan event. It's one that many, many people traveling to and from the US have to deal with. And yes, CYA is the norm in most three letter organizations, after all, no one gets fired for abusing someone.

If it's caused by malice, it's wrong and needs to be addressed. If it's caused by incompetence, it's wrong and needs to be addressed. If it happened to you, would you feel more comforted by the idea that hey, these are well-meaning but untrained and ignorant buffoons who couldn't use the common sense possessed by a housecat? Would it really matter?


> In this case, the pertinent detail is the fact the man set of explosive detectors.

Actually no, the pertinent detail is the fact that he wasn't carrying any explosives or planning anything nefarious.

> The most objectionable behaviour was arguably JetBlue's decision to refuse to honour the return ticket

You can't be serious. An innocent man was held against his will, questioned,with no water, for 18 hours, while in the mean some some secret police broke into his house, and the worst thing you can see about this is that he didn't get his money back??


> > I don't think this is that oppressive. > > Yeah, well, it didn't happen to you, did it?

Correct, and that's exactly what makes it not oppressive: the fact that it doesn't happen to random people pulled on the street. When this starts happening, then you are justified in claiming that your country is turning into a police state.


> "You can argue about the techniques; religious questions, not giving him water, but it's all a well-documented psychological game that they're trying to play. If they make the suspect mad, the suspect is more likely to start yelling hysterically without thinking, saving the taxpayer the cost of a long trial. It's worth a try, right? (I think the correct answer to any question is, "my lawyer will answer that. get me my lawyer.")"

This is about the techniques. As another commenter pointed out, details matter. "Securing our airports" is all well and good until you start "securing" them via forced detentions absent any charges, denying basic physical needs, "patdowns" that would qualify as sexual assault if someone not wearing a uniform did it, and so on. The whole point is that if you don't consider the details and only focus on the goals, then you only consider the benefits and not the costs. Judging from the public statements by officers of the TSA and DHS, this is exactly how they seem to think about these practices.

> "Let me ask you this: say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane. How do you do it?"

They already had checked for guns and explosives. Both his bags were scanned and his body was repeatedly "inspected" as well. The statements made by the officers indicated they were well aware that false alarms due to various common chemicals are routine. Yet they decided to assume he was a terrorist carrying explosives because he was a brown person who hadn't eaten traveling during Ramadan, not because of any concrete evidence on his person or possessions.


Exactly. Should we start waterboarding all suspects because, hey, it might save the cost of a trial?

And besides, doesn't the government have armies of lawyers on their payroll already? The only significant cost to the taxpayer here would be if they lose.


> "Let me ask you this: say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane. How do you do it?"

Politely. With the view that I'm dealing with people who are innocent unless found to be otherwise.

Edit: Please also note that permethrin is not an explosive. Should everyone who uses insect repellant be treated this way while going through security? I'm surprised the guy even knew the name of the chemical (I wouldn't have).


Well, considering that red teams are routinely able to smuggle weapons and simulated explosive devices on aircraft fairly routinely, the current procedures are shit. Security theater at its finest.

And you can't detain someone without reasonable suspicion which gives you the authority to investigate whether a crime has occurred. This detention can't be indefinite, and can't even come close to lasting 24 hours. Once your investigation exceeds around 30 minutes, you have to either arrest the person (assuming probable cause) or release them.


Setting off an explosives detector isn't reasonable suspicion?


My wife set off an explosives detector once. They asked her if she had used any lotions, she said yes, hand lotion, and they let her go.

This was about a year ago.


I'm sorry, but this is relevant to the original article in what way? No such courtesies were afforded to the author until long into the ordeal. (By my count of the author's timeline, ~2.5 hours after he stepped into the security lines.) The author mentioned explicitly that he cleaned his apartment and the TSA agent refused to give any indication that that might be cause for the flagging for explosives.

Regardless, contrarian anecdotal evidence does nothing to diminish the questionable approach to how airport security is, and in the author's case was, handled.


I think you are misinterpreting what I'm saying (aside from stating an experience). If hand lotion can (supposedly) flag the machine, setting off the detector shouldn't be handled in this fashion.


Yes, it's reasonable suspicion for further questioning; meaning he can be detained for a short period. When nothing else came of it, he should have been released, or arrested. Obviously, they didn't have enough evidence to arrest him. They just abused their authority.


Been there done that.

They also asked my religion. I said I'm Buddhist (sort of true, though I'm not a very good one) and after a brief chat, I was sent off with my beans. No pat down, no detention.

FYI, If you want to avoid this, handle as few volatile compounds as you can (E.G. Alcohol based products). Better yet, stop using that artificial malarkey altogether. You'll smell less offensive and it would probably be healthier for you anyway.

Of course, this is just a stop-gap measure to avoid getting inconvenienced. The real solution is to move from security theater to true security and that takes policy changes.


You cannot have true security. You can have acceptable security. The law of diminishing returns kicks very hard after a point.

Basically you should aim to keep terrorism the least of the risks for the society but to accept it as a non zero.

But the moment less people are dying from terrorism than lets say random obscure health condition then the money and resources are better invested elsewhere.


The point isn't the number of people dying. Its the chilling effect. Travel was way down after 9/11 due to fear. That has a much bigger economic effect than just the deaths.

In the 1970s there was no airport security. Airliners believed it would be cheaper to just pay off plane hijackers. That was before those hijackers started flying them into skyscrapers.


The lower airline travel isn't just from fear; it's also from the additional time and hassles of security.

. . . although after many years of not flying, in the past 2 months I've gone through security about 10 times and it's always been pleasant and professional and quick.


That's hard to say. How accurate is the detector? How susceptible to false-positives is it? Does it even detect anything at all? Do we really know that the "bomb detector" isn't just another ADE-651?[1][2]

[1]: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/01/world/europe/fake-bomb-detecto...

[2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADE_651


My laptop once tested positive for TNT residue at ORD. They asked if I had any idea why it did, I said no, and they let me go after testing my shirt.


Can you cite sources for either of the two claims you made here? I'm genuinely curious.



> "Most fake bombs missed by screeners"

Seems like the screening is working, then.

> Missed loaded guns:

This statistic is meaningless without the number of times where they caught loaded guns.

And once we have these numbers, make a suggestion to improve that percentage.


Hey, would you like to buy this rock?


Here's a link to the legal stuff. I'll find the best link for the red team statement.

http://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/arrests_and_...

EDIT: Here's an example of a red team "success:"

http://www.9news.com/news/story.aspx?storyid=67166&catid=222


I can imagine that the same logic was applied in our colonial period to unwarranted searches and seizures. The Loyalists surely said, "Hey, you just lost the lottery. Sure they came in and stole some things and roughed you up a little, but the bruises heal in a few days and they didn't steal that much. Overall things are pretty good, so deal with it and quit your whining."

This is, of course, evil.


> I think the correct answer to any question is, "my lawyer will answer that. get me my lawyer."

Hopefully. But their answer to that might contain the word "Guantanamo" and there's a chance, given that you're now an uncooperative brown person, that they're not bluffing.

I'm normally not one to buy arguments that the US is truly on a slippery slope to becoming a police state, but this year has made me seriously rethink that.


At the very least, their answer will likely involve a permanent extrajudicial no-fly status as punishment for being insufficiently patriotic.


Israel does a marvelous job of it by a brief interview of every passenger. It's a matter of how each person reacts to initial eye contact; with proper interrogation training, ill intent is obvious.

The TSA technique does everything but what works. Gross wholesale violations of multiple Constitutional rights doesn't work.


This sounds terrible. Police make me very nervous. I avoid them if possible, especially making eye contact. How would I show up in Israel's interview?


It´s just the security girl that checks your ticket before you go with your bags through the bag cleareance (that happens before you check in). If you don´t know what´s happening you don´t notice it. In fact Ben Gurion airport has one of the fastest and least unpleasent security screening I´ve seen, while being at the same time maybe the most secure. Security people is very pleasent, even when they stop you for questioning, they do it fast and in a polite way. They are proffesionals that have to deal with daily and real threats. The most unpleasent airport security is the TSA and then the British, and it depends largely on the guy you meet at the filter. After the 9/11 the german airport security were very strict for a couple of years, now they seem to be back to normal, stricter rules but not offensive searches and that.

Edit: I stand corrected the British security is mostly Heathrow. I flew from Edimburgh this April and the security was mostly the same as the rest of europe. Also I have improved the wording a bit.


The British at what airport? There is no singular organization who carries out the security, and different airports subcontract the work to different companies. In general, my experience in the UK has been comparable to the rest of Europe.


4 hour immigration lines at Heathrow are normal for the rest of Europe? Schiphol is about 30 minutes. I am never flying in to Heathrow again, if I can avoid it.


4 hour? Wow. Longest I've ever had at Heathrow Terminal 5 was 15 minutes or so (it's been a decade or more since I last went to any other Heathrow terminal) — and I fly through both there and Amsterdam a fair bit. Typically quicker than Amsterdam, in my experience.


What terminal do you fly into? T4 is quite bad since it seems to handle all the flights from Asia. It really was 4 hours, but this was also before the Olympics while they were also busy doing renovations. If you are European, the experience is obviously faster (different lines), though being American doesn't seem to help.

Schiphol was still 30+ minutes (was in line behind a flight from...Iran), but not incredibly annoying like London was.


Terminal 5, as I said — nowadays all BA flights go there, so there are flights from all over the world there (the distinction between the other terminals is basically that of airline, the fact a lot of Asian airlines happen to be in T4 is coincidence rather than explicit planning, AFAIK).

I am British — which helps somewhat — but I've known them to throw us on the back of the "All Passports" queue when it's been relatively busy, and never noticed it take any longer than otherwise. That all said, I more often than not pass through the passport control used for domestic transfers, rather than that for leaving the airport (though my experience is that that tends to have shorter queues than the one for transfers).

And no, I wouldn't expect being from the US to help, except for not requiring a visa.


I should google first:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2012/04/immigration-...

I don't know if they've fixed the problem, but its permanently soured me on flying into England.


There's a difference in reaction between someone nervous of cops vs. someone about to die in the willful act of mass murder.


> There's a difference in reaction between someone nervous of cops vs. someone about to die in the willful act of mass murder.

That's a pretty nuanced decision for the inspector to make. Polygraph machines and their operators routinely mess that one up.

I doubt that they themselves claim they can make that differentiation, and if they do so make that claim, I'd bet cash on it that it has been untested as far as accuracy regarding false positives.

Generally speaking, teaching 'technique' to a layman and expecting them to all be of equal caliber is just simply wrong.


True, but that's why they reportedly pay lots more than minimum wage, recruit carefully, and train heavily. And also profile the hell out of people.

The real difference is that it's only one airport. It would be very expensive and time-consuming to scale that up to secure every airport in the US.

Not much news about false positives for them makes it out, at least not in English-language media, but the worst I've heard of them doing is grilling suspicious people for a few hours.


Saying that there's a difference is a tautology. Of course there's a difference. There's also a difference between someone trying to decide between getting an apple or a blueberry danish.

The important bits are whether the difference is detectable in a manner that is convenient (putting each passenger through an MRI machine is out of the question), reliable (minimize false positives and false negatives), and so on. Just saying "there's a difference" adds no new information to the conversation unless you're able to expand on the quantifiable aspects of those differences.


Huh. I wonder how they train the inspectors?


The difference is that New York, in and of itself, has more airports than Israel. Israel also pays extremely handsomely for its security. We would have to massively increase the funding for the TSA to attract better people and give them more resources.


> ill intent is obvious

I always here about it. Is it true? Couldn't terrorists just practice being interrogated knowing this.

Double agents when working for secret agencies regularly get training in how to pass polygraph testing (i.e. interrogation) so it is very doable..


As someone who was in a fraternity in college that practiced a waterboarding procedure as part of the initiation process, around our time in Iraq, I have come to never accept torture as someone who experienced one of the basic methods.

So, go ahead, try it. Call me a troll but you should check your moral compass. Do not argue for the torture, psychological or physical, of others if you cannot hack or attempt to at least once. That is where I draw the line.


> Call me a troll but you should check your moral compass. Do not argue for the torture, psychological or physical, of others if you cannot hack or attempt to at least once.

That's a weird line of reasoning. For example, according to you, I shouldn't have an opinion on death penalty unless I'm willing to see what it does?

Besides, the debate is not whether torture hurts the victim or not: everybody on either side of that fence knows that it does.

The question is: is torture ever justified?

Surely I can have an opinion on this without having to lie down and have gallons of water poured into my mouth through a cloth?


> Surely I can have an opinion on this without having to lie down and have gallons of water poured into my mouth through a cloth?

You certainly are entitled to having an opinion on anything. Personally, on topics such as water-boarding, I will lend much greater credence to someone that has experienced water-boarding.

> the debate is not whether torture hurts the victim or not: everybody on either side of that fence knows that it does. The question is: is torture ever justified?

To determine whether torture is justified you need to know both the costs, and the benefits. It's far too simplistic to say the "cost" of torture is that "it hurts the victim". Pain isn't a binary condition. How much pain is being inflicted? For how long? Is it permanent? Is the psychological trauma of the fear of death part of the calculation?

I won't go so far as 616c as saying "Don't argue for it", but I will say "Expect a less serious consideration of your arguments from me".


What I was saying is that it is morally reprehensible to find ways to justify torture. If that does not work for you and you need to reconsider your side-stepping passive support of something so abhorrent, go the empirical way and try it. You will realize then why no person should have to go through it, even if you think there is a good reason. No one stands up to torture well for any given period of time, or no one would use it.


I think that you're missing the point.

The prolem is not that he was interrogated. It's rather how he was interrogated and how the agents conducted themselves. They treated him like a spy and employed some psychological techniques. Was that even necessary? Doesn't e deserve to be treated with respect? Why did they immediately assume he was a criminal? Especially when they knew the machhines were defective?

Considering the fact that they knew the machines weren't perfect and that household items set them off, they should've considered him innocent until proven otherwise and treated him with respect. Even more so if he's a citizen. They should've atleast told him that "hey, the following items could set it off, have you used one of these?" They could've then verified his claims with the chemical that showed up.

All this will only become obvious once it happens to you I guess.


> say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane. How do you do it?

Like this: you check them for guns and explosives. Finding none, you let them on the plane. Total elapsed time: 5 minutes.

It's really not that hard.


How do you check for explosives?

There are AQAP designs that involve zero metallic parts, and they've been attempted twice.

In both instances the bombs actually made it on the plane and the attacks were only prevented by other means. That's one of the reasons TSA is trying to shift to machines that detect explosive chemical residue directly instead of just magnetometers, but that necessarily brings with it false positives.

I certainly think false positives can and should be handled better than what happened to OP, but you have provided no insight on how to check for guns and explosives here.


Do they also have magic bombs that are invisible and intangible? If not, hands and eyes will do a good job of finding such things.


So the idea is to give everyone a thorough pat-down on the way through along with an even-more-intensive bag search? Not that I'm opposed... it would be way more 'action' than I normally get, but somehow I don't see everyone seeing it the same way.


Just because you didn't find explosives on them doesn't mean there are no explosives. It could also mean they set them elsewhere and are now at the airport to make a getaway, like the guy who set up that unsuccessful car bomb attempt in Times Square.


  > say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane.
  > How do you do it?
The way we did it before the one-off event that made airports unbearable and sane people behaving like headless chicken.


Things have changed since 9/11. Explosives have gotten smaller and more stable. And nobody checks bags anymore, because it's cheaper to carry them on. So now you have to do the same screening you did before, but in "real time" and looking for something smaller.

9/11 did cause a lot of hysteria, but the risk profile has also changed since then. (Also, if you get TSA Pre, the security standards become essentially what they were pre-9/11.)


First of all: We can agree to disagree and stop this, I guess? At least for me, this will be my last post here.

You're a name that comes up a lot here, and frankly I don't want to start a "That's insane" discussion with one of the top HN contributors. I've got no idea what's going on in you to defend that process, I'm certainly surprised to see your "It is necessary" comments in this thread, but .. I guess I leave the discussion again after this post.

I really, really don't want to offend you, but I guess this might be taken personal anyway: I'm confused, surprised and - to some degree - disgusted that this pro-terrorism scheme could be supported here, by a hacker.

Regarding your arguments: I'm no expert on explosives (hello NSA?) and wouldn't know about that. Actually I don't believe that claim (think citation needed), I haven't heard about major breakthroughs in explosive materials. You might be right.

I'm always checking in my bag. It's more comfortable for me and allows me to put stuff in that thing that I cannot take on board (yeah, but it can be on board below deck of course..).

Real time is crap. Before and after you needed to pass security. It was always 'one check, at one point, every passenger'. Now they just go nuts and try mentally insane procedures on top.

I doubt that 9/11 changed the risk profile. I think some people, a group of interested parties, changed the risk profile instead.

TSA Pre: Wouldn't know about that. I'm not from the US, never been there, will never travel there. The whole country has so much to offer (culture, country, vast and large) and it was my teenage geek dream to move there one day. Today? I laugh about that. The requirements to enter the country are just not worth it and there's plenty of stuff elsewhere that I need to see.


The political opinions of Hacker News commenters aren't that different from the general public's in their respective nations. There's plenty of people around America, at least, who think the TSA is just fine.

You're surprised by this guy because it's hard to voice certain opinions on certain topics (like the incessant and almost always redundant TSA / NSA / Manning / Snowden coverage) without having someone condescend to you, which gets tiresome quickly. So all the people who agree with him usually don't bother to comment, and often avoid these threads entirely.

In other words, we've just the illusion of conformity around here, and the surprising thing isn't that someone disagrees, it's that they were masochistic enough to start arguing in the first place.


> this pro-terrorism scheme

Care to elaborate?


A tiny, miniscule group of braindead idiots does something awful, once.

The majority of people suffer everyday from thereon because they might potentially be bad guys by bringing more than 100ml of toothpaste.

Mission accomplished.


Everytime I travel, I notice a huge number of people checking bags. See how that anecdata works?

And if explosives have magically gotten smaller and more stable in the last 12 years (somehow defying chemistry and physics), why aren't we seeing more successful attacks? Or arrests of terrorists who underestimate how good the TSA is? Could it be that we're protecting ourselves against a miniscule threat? I bet if we invoked some type of placebo security where the guards just watched a rerun of South Park instead of the xray screen, we'd be just as "effective."


> I bet if we invoked some type of placebo security where the guards just watched a rerun of South Park instead of the xray screen, we'd be just as "effective."

I think they already do, except they're only showing that one early episode where Cartman goes all RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAYH


By coincidence I was watching again the "Don't talk to the police" video on youtube.

Seems to me that this guy had to talk a lot, answer a lot of questions, without any of the protection the 5th amendment is supposed to provide.


Even if you ignore the fact that the US government considers airports and a 100 mile border zone around the US to be a "constitution-free zone" [1] and assume that the TSA, FBI, NYPD, and Homeland Security officers would have respected his rights fully and treated him with courtesy, invoking the 5th guarantees that you will miss your flight, and the security apparatus at airports is well aware of this. So you can invoke your right to remain silent, but only by sacrificing your right to move about freely in the process.

[1] https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/fact-sheet-us-co...


fwiw, i started dating a lawyer and she and I went deep into the 100-mile free zone topic. Me, on the paranoid side and she, siding with the SCOTUS. We spent a few hours researching Supreme Court cases and eventually found lots of details. I'll try to relate the most important nuances. 1. it's not an official u.s. policy. i love the ACLU, i'm a member, but they're inducing some unnecessary fear. 2. you can't be unreasonably searched, they have to have some reason. typically, this reason is immigration. 3. this power to search has been challenged in the Supreme Court repeatedly. in some cases it was upheld, b/c the primary reason for the search was immigration. in others, the executive branch could not hold up the case and it was dropped. so, checks and balances still work. 4. after searching for immigration, anything they find such as drugs or explosives is utterly admissible. so immigration is often used as a pretense, but they can't get away with arbitrary immigration searches 5. it's not just 100 miles around the border, it's also around every port of entry, such as airports.

I hope this helps. I really wish she or other lawyers like her would interpret this stuff for everyday people like you and me. The government and the ACLU both seem to benefit from our ignorance (and the fear we inherit due to it), so neither is incentivized to present the true picture.. and that's the real problem.


I'd suspect he was guaranteed to miss his flight the moment he "admitted" his trip had a religious dimension, after having set off the explosion detector. At that point, I suppose you may as well try to cut your losses, stop talking and get escorted out of the airport as soon as possible.


You don't get protection from the 5th without actually using it. He didn't have to talk to the police/TSA/FBI/DHS but he willingly did. If he simply said 'I don't want to talk' and shut up that would've been the end of the questioning - but obviously not the ordeal.


I suspect that the rules regarding interactions with the TSA are likely to bypass that. And, good luck getting food or water in that time.


how much of that applies to the TSA? I'd like to know for my own benefit during travel. I know how to speak to a policeman, but I was under the idea that the TSA had even larger authority.


All of it? Why would it only be a portion?

Just because you exercise the 5th doesn't mean the police or Feds have to suddenly make you comfortable.

He asked for water and probably could've gotten some if he had pushed the issue, it didn't seem as though he was being very vocal about being hungry and thirsty.


How much should one have to scream at armed men before getting water?


It lies somewhere between being Vocal enough to be heard and being so vocal that you are charged with assault. Clearly his fault that he couldn't strike that balance in such comfortable conditions.


Are you asking me if all of it applies?

Because time and time again the aggressive treatment of passengers by the TSA has proven that we DO NOT have the same rights when dealing with the TSA.

Care to answer my question in a non-snark way? Regardless of the rules and laws in place, it's obvious (to a signifigant amount of other people) that American rights are being trampled on a near daily basis.

>>Why would it only be a portion?

I agree. Why is it?


> Let me ask you this: say you want to check for guns and explosives before people get on an airplane. How do you do it?

Do you really think that's a hard question? You just literally look for guns and explosives, and if you don't find any, there aren't any.


Am I the only person that thinks that he should have the slip of paper with the "10:40" time on it tested as the trace explosive trigger, or is that too cynical?


Let me guess, are you white?


What do you think about the part where they broke into his home? (Assuming they did.)


My luggage once set off explosive alarms at JFK. But my experience was completely different, and only lasted 5 or 10 minutes. They also told me what the chemical was, when I asked.

In his case, there was some profiling going on.


And by all appearances, they went into his house. While he was at the airport.


> Nowhere in the Constitution does it say the government can't hamfistedly accuse you of a crime. All it says is that they have to charge you or let you go in 24 hours, give you a trial, and punish you in a consistent way. They did that here; they asked some questions and they let him go.

They also broke into his apartment while doing that, and detained him for the better part of a day with no real probable cause other than "this machine said something".


You know, as probably causes go, that really isn't that bad. Certainly, people have been stopped for less, and kept just as long or longer. If they made a mistake, it was that they didn't have an efficient procedure for figuring out whether the chemicals detected by the machine were actually explosives or not. Incompetence is bad, certainly, but not as bad as corruption.


There's an unhealthy mixture of both incompetence and corruption within the TSA.


It is also my perception that as western european countries (France for me) want more and more surveillance and US-like "security" laws, former soviet block countries are adding to our safeguard in the European parliament.

The number of small level scary stuff I have seen discarded because the EU told us "seriously, you can't do that" is crazy (did you know that until recently, you could be detained by the police with no lawyer for several hours in France ? The EU forced us to fix that [1]). That is the one and only reason I have always been against turkish being in the EU, not religion or anything else like that like the medias like to claim.

One has to wonder what will happen when the former soviet countries start to forget what oppression means too.

[1] http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garde_%C3%A0_vue_en_droit_fran%...


It's an appalling story and the behavior of the TSA is often reprehensible, but seriously -- this is not a fair comparison.

So yes, security guys don't know Hindu from Muslim or Indian from whatever, but it's well-known there is a heightened alert right now, US embassies all over the middle-east and Africa are closed out of security fears, and this guy fit a crude profile AND did something slightly unusual (opted out of a security measure) AND triggered a gas chromatograph AND probably fired off several behavioral red flags. Sucks but it's just Bad Luck.


What a load of shit. "Security guys" should be fucking competent or they shouldn't be "security guys" at all. And who cares about some "keep the sheep fearful and in line" propoganda shit the US government puts out about supposed threats to embassies or whatever? The "opt-out" he elected is explicitly defined as a valid procedure by the TSA, so citing that as "suspicious" is bullshit. And "behavioural red flag?" Are you shitting me? What do you think somebody is supposed to do when they are detained against their will, subject to multiple interrogations, denied food and water, and otherwise accosted by a gang of jack-booted thugs?

The only part of this story that makes it anything less than a total clusterfuck on the part of the TSA is that their so-called "explosive detector" alerted on something. Fine, it should take about 3 minutes after that to manually pat down / search the individual and find (or not) any explosives they are carrying. If you don't find any (and seemingly they didn't) that's what we call a "false positive". They happen, but that does not justify all the follow-on bullshit.

Seriously, FUCK the TSA. Those assholes are the terrorists as far as I'm concerned.


> "Security guys" should be fucking competent or they shouldn't be "security guys" at all.

I'd say the same of Java programmers, but we know that's not true, and Java coders get much better salaries.

> And "behavioural red flag?" Are you shitting me?

In Britain for many years the main security measure at Heathrow was for security people to simply interview passengers on check in and ask them about their bags, where they were traveling, etc. -- the main purpose was to look for behavioral cues and not so much obtain answers to the questions. I believe this is one of the things TSA officers are supposed to receive training in.

So maybe he was low blood sugar and this triggered some kind of tic that also caused a false positive.

So you've got a bunch of things that all put you on the wrong side of checklist, voluntarily pick another one, and then add another couple from pure bad luck, and it sucks. I speak as someone who has been randomly detained for no stated reason at customs in Australia long before 9/11, and who since, having dark hair and complexion, is frequently on the wrong end of TSA profiling.

> Seriously, FUCK the TSA. Those assholes are the terrorists as far as I'm concerned.

You've led a sheltered life.


In Britain for many years the main security measure at Heathrow was for security people to simply interview passengers on check in and ask them about their bags, where they were traveling, etc. -- the main purpose was to look for behavioral cues and not so much obtain answers to the questions. I believe this is one of the things TSA officers are supposed to receive training in.

I took the earlier post as referring to the events that happened after he was detained. I'm not arguing against the idea of "behavioural indicators", I meant to say that someone becoming upset at being detained, grilled, denied water, etc., isn't such an indicator.

As for TSA officers in particular - these are people who would be asking "Would you like a hot apple pie with that?" if it weren't for the existence of the TSA. Not exactly America's "best and brightest". I have serious questions about their qualification to make any kind of valid assessment based on subtle psychological / behavioural clues.

You've led a sheltered life.

Not so much.


> Not so much.

Then you have a very low bar for terrorism.


Says the guy who thinks someone traveling alone and carrying bug spray residue and being Hindu should set off the TSA's terrorism alarm. Perhaps you could move that bar a scorch higher?


> In Britain for many years the main security measure at Heathrow was for security people to simply interview passengers on check in and ask them about their bags, where they were traveling, etc. -- the main purpose was to look for behavioral cues and not so much obtain answers to the questions. I believe this is one of the things TSA officers are supposed to receive training in.

This is the case in US airports as well. I recently flew back to Belgium from JFK in NYC. Before you go through screening you get asked those questions by someone, who then writes something on your boarding pass.


Seriously, FUCK the TSA. Those assholes are the terrorists as far as I'm concerned.

That one comment just undermined 100% of any credibility I had placed in the remainder of your comments in this thread.


That one comment just undermined 100% of any credibility I had placed in the remainder of your comments in this thread.

I'm sorry you feel that way. We probably have some fundamental differences in our worldviews and fundamental principles. Nonetheless, I respect your opinion, even if it makes me sad.


Right, I think it's that last sentence that bothers me too. Up to that point I pretty much agree with you (despite the fact you were responding so rudely to what I said). The TSA are a bunch of not very smart people doing a stupid, boring, ineffective job, but they aren't terrorists.


it seems like "terrorist" just means "bad"

the difference in worldview is whether words should mean things or just be a way to stay excited


Somewhat unwillingly, but I agree with your comment. There was an acceptable level of suspicion given that triggered the event. Sure, this whole thing went far to long and the missing picture story is mysterious, but most of the other "bad" stuff can be attributed to typical bureaucratic incompetence combined with playing dumb in the hopes to trigger up some reaction.


> but it's well-known there is a heightened alert right now

lol. it's also well-known that the word "gullible" is written on most ceilings.


> I can't even imagine being held captive without arrest for hours, being questioned about the purpose of my trip, about my religion and habits, all while travelling within my country

I also grew in an Eastern European country (Romania), and I remember thinking about those poor Soviet citizens who needed passports to travel inside the USSR. It all seemed very surreal, having to have special approval from your government in order to travel inside your own country.


For those who haven't read it, Book 8 of The Republic by Plato details a possible transformation from democracy to tyranny. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.9.viii.html


Regardless of the geographic location you call home, I believe that it's not "if" but "when" the government will remove your freedom. They may do this out of "political", "religious", or any other "reason" they see fit.

The truth is that the world is changing.

People do stupid things.

You give people power and it's only a matter of time when something can go wrong.


> if a wrong leader gets elected

That has already happened. You can probably go back to the last ten presidential elections and this statement would hold true in some form. I'd say the same about moat senators and representatives. It's a disaster we've been engineering with great consistency for 50 years.

I don't know what it will take for the US voter to wake up. Actually, no, I know, things have to get substantially worst. Most people don't pay attention to politics and how the country is being run often enough to be aware. They watch tv networks during elections to be told how to vote, and then they go back to sleep. Politicians love it. Whole blocks of people will always vote the same way. Nobody thinks. We are watching our destruction from the inside and there's precious little we can do about it.


"At the same time, the U.S. is rapidly degenerating into something that isn't quite the sinister oppressive regime, but getting close to the point where it could become one, if a wrong leader gets elected."

I think it has little to do with any leader who gets "elected." The actual leadership is safe behind the scenes, busy "electing" people with well placed capital. The faces change, but not what's underneath. I think we passed the point you worry we are getting close to, and I think the wrong leaderS have been "elected" for long enough that we're... just totally screwed.

"It's scary."

Yep.


Just from my experience, the Snowden thing was the best thing to happen for getting people to notice government abuses of power. Before him, if you were to say something like "the government is tracking everything we do on the internet", everyone would call you a conspiracy theorist. Now it's treated like common knowledge, and I even hear it taken even further than what has been verified.


> ...the USA seemed like heaven: transparency, procedures, basic rights, free speech, accountable officials.

That last part is interesting, and I think it may play a bigger role here. It is difficult to hold people accountable for actions that are hidden, and not well understood. James Clapper lied to Congress in his testimony, and has had little more reprimand than us bitching about it on the internet.


> As I read more and more of those stories I can't help but wonder at how things changed.

People have stopped reading manuals. Bed bug spray is highly flammable. Basically it's one category below explosive...



I've a friend who spent a good deal of time recently in Khazakhstan, and she was very amused by my attempts to express my fears of the United States becoming an authoritarian police state. She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about and all these other sorts of issues.

The distressing thing is that we've been putting so much machinery into place, and gotten the noose so well fitted, that when the bottom drops out we'll only have the briefest of short, sharp shocks before we find ourselves in a terrifyingly efficient machine of oppression.


> I've a friend who spent a good deal of time recently in Khazakhstan, and she was very amused by my attempts to express my fears of the United States becoming an authoritarian police state. She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about and all these other sorts of issues.

And she is right — the US is nowhere near being an authoritarian police state. But it is on a slippery slope, and those of us who have experienced a police state and can detect certain symptoms are deeply worried.

What's even more worrying is that this quiet (it is quiet, Hacker News represents at a first approximation 0% of the voting population) change takes place in a country which is the #1 military, financial and political world power.


If the US is nowhere near being an authoritarian police state, at what point will US become a authoritarian police state?

When they have kill lists without any trial, jury or judge?

When they keep prisoners in jail indefinitely without a trial?

When they torture prisoners?

When state officials lie to the public?

When state officials lie to public representatives?

When the secret police interfere with lawyers communications and interferes with legal cases?

When the secret police silence individuals that want to inform about abuse?

When the secret police use surveillance for blackmailing?

When the state use strip searches and surveillance indiscriminately against the population, including children?

When the state implement state censorship?

When they use force against peaceful demonstrators?

When they utilize military resources against peaceful demonstrators?

When they seize bank assets without any trial, any intention of a trial, or even without ever formally serving the individual with criminal papers?

Please state what criteria we should use, so we can have a final definition of what an authoritarian police state is.


>If the US is nowhere near being an authoritarian police state, at what point will US become a authoritarian police state?

When it's too late to do anything about it.


This response is gold.


All of those criteria, plus I think an extra criterion that they have to happen to so many people that it reaches some kind of tipping point where there's a mass consensus that things are authoritarian. Just to be clear, I'm not excusing the abuses you've listed.


The thing about rule law is that it's not about critical mass. It's the edge cases that are important. It's easy to have justice the majority of the time. If the state can arbitrarily subvert the rules just because they think it's really really important, that's not rule of law.

I know you're not arguing that it is, you're more talking about public opinion. I think you're probably right. But I wish that weren't the reality.


Well, the obvious answer is that the rule of law is a fiction.

As you point out, even if it's true for most of us, most of the time, it's the edge cases (abuses) that matter most.


Well, perhaps we can see things on a line from perfect rule of law to perfect authoritarianism, with the understanding that no state is ever completely at one end or the other. I think we're still less than half way to authoritarianism.


All governments demand obedience. That's why they have a monopoly on violence. Any entity which wields a monopoly on violence for the purpose of controlling the actions of others is authoritarian in nature.

I can't imagine what you mean by "perfect rule of law", but I do know it isn't the antithesis of authoritarianism. The opposite of strict obedience to authority is no obedience to authority -- meaning no hierarchy -- or anarchy.

My point is, we're judging how authoritarian a dictator is based on how benevolent they are. While a dictator is capable of ruling.. "equitably", the fact is you still have a dictator who could change his mind tomorrow. So it's not that we're mad about having a dictator, we're just mad this dictator is being a bigger ass hole than yesterday.


That's a good point about anarchy. Although anarchy and authoritarianism are opposites, they behave in very similar ways: the people with power call the shots as they please. In the middle, you could say we have perfect rule of law. This means that no officials act as if they are above the law, and that every moral injustice is handled by some law or another. Clearly we'll never have that.

So the first continuum I proposed is actually one half of the continuum between anarchy and authoritarianism.


The problem is, by the time it affects enough of the general public, it's already to late. It's the classic "First they came for..." problem.


Exactly. Right now the "in your face" abuse is happening to a relatively small portion of people (privacy of millions being violated but they don't all feel it yet). Easy for everyone else to sit back in comfort and think it won't happen to them or the others somehow deserved it. When it happens to more people then an outrageous edge case can serve as the tipping point.


First they came for the brown people, but I did not speak out because I was not a brown person...


Do you seriously think that classic examples of XX century authoritarian states had mass consensus that they are authoritarian? That would be a post-modern authoritarian state.


I suppose it has to be mass consensus among the persecuted class and the friends of the persecuted class.


But all of those criteria are already true in both the US and the UK. I think that was his point.


I don't believe there's a mass consensus that it's an authoritarian regime. I'm not even sure there's a mass consensus that it's heading in that direction, regardless of what I personally believe.


No, and I don't think that a mass consensus is in any way relevant to determining whether something is an authoritarian regime or not.

There was never a mass consensus in the USSR that it was authoritarian, because it was not permitted.

When I say not permitted, I do not mean that they had people with guns going "THINK THIS!", but that social pressure and group-think were utilised to ensure that nobody broke ranks - just like media control in the US and UK ensures.

It's very easy to rule people by pitting them against one another, and putting them in a state of fear, envy or suspicion of their fellow cit.


So, okay, how do you determine it then? If those things listed each happened once, it wouldn't be authoritarian. (Would it?) What about twice? Three times? There has to be some threshold. I couldn't think of a better threshold than some kind of consensus, because it's essentially a value judgment. But, it's a good point about group-think. Maybe there has to be a consensus among people outside of the marginalized group? Maybe the fact that people are even openly questioning whether we have an authoritarian regime in the US means that we don't?

Perhaps things are authoritarian when a wide range of people expect abuse from the people in power, whether or not they recognize it as such.

Or, maybe it's more sinister than that, and we only truly recognize authoritarianism in retrospect.


> Or, maybe it's more sinister than that, and we only truly recognize authoritarianism in retrospect.

Bingo, you get it. Put a frog in a pan of cold water, bring it to the boil. It'll stay there, perfectly content, until it cooks.


All of these are abuses of power, and should be opposed.

That said, I'm confident that there is no nation state on Earth that hasn't done these things. Please correct me if you can think of examples.

The difference now is that they are affecting mainstream, middle-class, "normal" Americans.

While it's good that people are angry about these abuses, it also seems incredibly naive. This is what states do. This is what they've always done. This is not particularly more authoritarian than they've been in the past.

There was no glorious past. There were no good old days.


>That said, I'm confident that there is no nation state on Earth that hasn't done these things.

Please, tell me one "first-world" country that has kill lists??



I can't edit my (old) post, I meant non-US-countries as the OP was implying. Does the current German Republic carry kill-lists? Nope.


Wow, you need to pay attention more.


The USA?


Dunno.

When it becomes illegal to oppose the current government?

When there is any political ideology it is illegal to espouse that does not involve directly inciting people to commit crimes?

When it becomes illegal to stage mass protests about anything?

When the media is directly owned by the state, as it is in many places?

When journalists and activists are jailed, as they are in many places?

When the media feels in any way uncomfortable roundly criticizing the government?

When the media feels too uncomfortable to openly publish government secrets which were previously leaked?

When most people think the government is authoritarian and needs to be reined in?

When enough people think the government is authoritarian that, under a democratic system, they would be a powerful voting bloc?

When at least enough people think the government is authoritarian for the idea to be given serious consideration in mainstream debates? (Debate about specific programs that need to be curtailed, without a general sense that the government is comparable to a police state, do not count.)

When we don't see things happening like

a rightwing antigovernment political movement becoming very popular and taking over a significant portion of the legislature;

a leftwing anticapitalist political movement staging provocative long-term demonstrations around the country with, at the end of the day, mostly pretty reasonable interactions with various municipal police departments, and managing at least to significantly influence the debate;

a judge placing harsh limits on a practice by a city's police department that was found to be unconstitutional?

Wikipedia cites the following elements of authoritarianism:

(1) "limited, not responsible, political pluralism"; that is, constraints on political institutions and groups (such as legislatures, political parties, and interest groups), (2) a basis for legitimacy based on emotion, especially the identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat "easily recognizable societal problems" such as underdevelopment or insurgency; (3) neither "intensive nor extensive political mobilization" and constraints on the mass public (such as repressive tactics against opponents and a prohibition of antiregime activity) and (4) "formally ill-defined" executive power, often shifting or vague.

Let's see:

(1) Not applicable.

(2) Nationalism and emotional support for the government in general is alive and perhaps too well, but politicians almost never attempt to use such emotional arguments to support keeping themselves in power rather than electing the other party.

(3) Political mobilization is fine. No repression. Prosecuting leakers, whether you oppose it or not, does not count.

(4) There are issues regarding Congressional oversight of certain executive programs, but there are certainly limits on the President's power. In fact, on the kinds of issues (economic, social) that the current President spends most of his time talking about, he seems to get his way remarkably rarely.

It is possible to criticize moves that are abuses of power or resemble those of an authoritarian police state in some aspects without literally, and incorrectly, calling the US an authoritarian police state.


The problems with many of these, is that a lot of obviously authoritarian governments like to pretend they're doing just fine. Note that I'm not arguing the US is yet an authoritarian police state, or that many of these apply to the US, but rather that it is also not helpful to make the criteria too strict - a key feature of many authoritarian governments is that they try to superficially appear, at least to their supporters who may especially in early phases make up a substantial proportion of the population, as "gentler" and more open than they are.

> When it becomes illegal to oppose the current government?

DDR on paper was a multi-party democracy. It was legal to oppose the current government. Even take part in parties other than the socialist party. Just if you did, Stasi might invent other ways of making you shut up, or you'd run afoul of other laws.

Of course the other parties all took part in a single electoral block with the SED (except for in the DDR's last ever election which was also the first where people could actually vote for more than one party), which somehow always totally dominated the parliament, and the other parties representatives also always voted the SED line, but it was of course all "voluntary".

Setting up the electoral system so that real opposition is near impossible is a gentler approach than actually outlawing opposition. Or make actual opposition start from an extreme financial handicap.

Mao, which we'll get back to, also provides plenty of demonstrations of how to do this without making it explicitly illegal: A central element of the Cultural Revolution was to build up a "social movement" that would fight supposed capitalists and counter-revolutionaries, but implicitly also anyone opposing Mao, and let a bunch of misled youth do the dirty work (not unlike Hitlerjugend). A lot of their work then later led to trumped up charges or various people recanting or "voluntarily" relinquishing their power.

If you want to make it look like you have popular support, it's much better to let "social movements" harass the opposition than to do it yourself, but not any less authoritarian.

> When there is any political ideology it is illegal to espouse that does not involve directly inciting people to commit crimes?

Most Soviet-era dictatorships would argue that they did just fine on this. You could espouse anything that wouldn't incite people to commit crime, they'd say. Of course espousing capitalism or actual democratic rights would be interpreted as inciting people to commit crimes.

> When it becomes illegal to stage mass protests about anything?

Even most Western democracies require permits for mass protests, and this is easy to exploit. A typical authoritarian government response to this is to make it legal, but only give permission when the protests are not seen as a threat, or to copy approaches also used by democratic states: Kettling, "Free speech zones", or simply refusing permits on security groups, or approving it for a time/date that kills its impact.

But a smart authoritarian government will welcome demonstrations that are not seen as a threat, or that are aligned with their interests. Mao's Cultural Revolution is a good example of mass demonstrations being used in support of an authoritarian government.

> When the media is directly owned by the state, as it is in many places?

What about when the media are owned by companies that know full well they exist only at the grace of government and "behave" and/or are owned by people beholden to the government? The effect is entirely the same.

> When journalists and activists are jailed, as they are in many places?

Inventing other crimes is easy. So is intimidating them instead of jailing them. Jailing them is the unsophisticated approach.

> When the media feels in any way uncomfortable roundly criticizing the government?

There's a sliding scale here that is incredibly hard to judge, because a lot of the time the media is "uncomfortable" criticising the government because they care about access, or because they don't think their audience or their advertisers will want to read/hear/watch it. Arguably the US is already in a situation where it takes extreme situations before the major media outlets wants to rock the boat.

> When the media feels too uncomfortable to openly publish government secrets which were previously leaked?

I'll grant you this is probably a good indicator - I can't think of any examples of obviously authoritarian governments that'd tolerate this other than for documents obviously "leaked" with permission.

> When most people think the government is authoritarian and needs to be reined in? > When enough people think the government is authoritarian that, under a democratic system, they would be a powerful voting bloc?

This doesn't make sense to me as it's incredibly hard to judge, and a government can be authoritarian but still be roughly aligned with the interests of a majority in a way that makes it seem relatively open on the surface. By the time a government is authoritarian, you won't be able to get good data on this.

> When at least enough people think the government is authoritarian for the idea to be given serious consideration in mainstream debates? (Debate about specific programs that need to be curtailed, without a general sense that the government is comparable to a police state, do not count.)

> When we don't see things happening like > a rightwing antigovernment political movement becoming very popular and taking over a significant portion of the legislature;

You mean like the NSDAP? (Yes, I know what you're actually referring to, and no, I'm not trying to compare them to the NSDAP other than the fact the NSDAP also campaigned massively on how bad the establishment were doing, and got substantial public support, as have many other movements that have had both good and bad intentions).

This is making assumptions about the power structure of an authoritarian government that are too simple. There's been plenty of authoritarian government where "mass movements" were built promising massive change and an opposition to current government practices, but where they were used simply for internal power struggles and getting a "clean slate".

Again, Mao is a good example - the Cultural Revolution was used as a means to imprison or disgrace a long list of high powered opponents of Mao, some, like Deng Xiaoping, who later eventually managed to run China despite never taking the posts that would have given him official leadership (making him another good example of how looking at formalities of who are officially in charge doesn't work very well).

> a leftwing anticapitalist political movement staging provocative long-term demonstrations around the country with, at the end of the day, mostly pretty reasonable interactions with various municipal police departments, and managing at least to significantly influence the debate;

Occupy was never a threat to anyone - it was horribly disorganised, had no understanding of actual left wing politics or the history of these kind of struggles in the US to the point where they were largely a joke. If anything "occupy" was a useful outlet to let people take out their frustrations without achieving much. A smart authoritarian government should "encourage" demonstrations like that - if nothing else they'd be greatly useful in charting "persons of interest".

Mao is again a perfect example of why "influencing the debate" in itself is meaningless: His "Hundred flowers campaign" is a textbook example of how to encourage debate, give the debaters room to get their frustrations out, and then shut the door (option extra for advanced authoritarians: carefully observe the debates and take note of who might be a continued threat, and find ways of making sure they aren't - up to and including arrest, or simply ensure they are ridiculed).

> a judge placing harsh limits on a practice by a city's police department that was found to be unconstitutional?

What about high level officials being arrested for corruption and abuse of powers? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-23776348 China prosecutes or persecutes even high level party officials on a semi-regular basis, and has since Mao's time (e.g. again Deng Xiaoping is a good example) - it's a great way of getting rid of people that have lost internal power struggles while giving an aura of accountability. It's also just good practice to apply harsh limits on parts of governments that does not impact your ability to rule - the more people are led to believe that the government does actually abide by the rules the less impetus there is to rebellion even if everyone realises that they live in an authoritarian state.


> When it becomes illegal to stage mass protests about anything?

As long as you're in a "free speech zone".

> When the media is directly owned by the state, as it is in many places?

Since the US is basically a corporatocracy, we're already there.

> When journalists and activists are jailed, as they are in many places?

Already happening. Assange abroad, Barrett Brown here in the US.

> When the media feels in any way uncomfortable roundly criticizing the government?

That's been happening here for years. Why does the US not have it's Jeremy Paxman?

> (3) Political mobilization is fine. No repression.

You're joking, right? The Occupy protests in Texas? Infiltration of protest groups and false flag events? Tch.


The US will become an authoritarian police state when it starts silencing all opposition to the state as a matter of course. That isn't the case yet. However, the processes, institutions and technology available to the US government already seem quite capable of facilitating authoritarian control. Personally, I suspect that it's just a matter of time. All the things you talk about have happened, but they happen rarely. With the right leadership in power, they could easily start to become commonplace. The thing is, anyone who says something that doesn't conform to state ideology can be said to be aiding terrorists, by spreading an "extremist" message and implicitly encouraging others towards terrorism. The general public seem quite happy with whatever treatment "terrorists" get, so I can't see there being much standing in the way.


When we can longer have this discussion, either because access to the means that make it possible has been barred from us or because the risk is too great.


When we can longer have this discussion

In the USA, it'll be when discussion becomes moot. The ruling elite need not prohibit free speech when no one is listening.


On the contrary, allowing us all to fill their dossiers with our words and giving the thugs the rope with which to bind us when the time comes makes more sense, and also fits better with an automated solution.


That's quite a laundry list. Links with each would give it more effect, though.


I considered it, but it would mostly distract from the otherwise very interesting discussion surrounding the definition of an an authoritarian police state.

For example, when ever someone say the word torture, there is always someone who would argue that simulated death and forcing up hoses into peoples noses to force-feed them is somehow not torture. By focusing on the general case rather than specific cases, the discussion in this thread has been of so much higher quality.

That said, if any of the statement sound surprising, I am more than happy to re-locate the source which inspired that sentence.


It's like porn. You know it when you see it.


I saw some random headline today, that said something along the lines of "The US is in that awkward position, where we can't fix things within the system anymore, and yet aren't far enough along to start hanging the bastards"


That paraphrases Claire Wolfe's quote:

"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution (1996)

She is a well-known libertarian writer, though she seems to have unplugged in the past few years. She has a Wikipedia article for more details.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claire_Wolfe


Thank you. I read few lines on that book, I'll buy it.


This is how things worked in the Cold War. Country after country was swallowed up by the "Evil Empire." "Unpatriotic" intellectuals began declaring that something needed to be done to stop the totalitarianism. Unfortunately, by the time the masses were ready to listen to these intellectuals, it was too late. Everyone was frozen in fear and the only thing left to do was assimilate.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doing something now is the only way to prevent things from getting worse. I just wish there was a clearly defined, nonpartisan plan to fight back (peacefully). The sooner someone can create this step-by-step plan, the sooner the masses will know what to do. It must be spelled out for them and packaged right, and maybe advertised on the Discovery channel (little joke).


This is a fantastic quote...made me laugh and then sigh.


and then cry


...and laugh about it all again.

(It's almost a line from So Long Marianne by Leonard Cohen.)


I would love it if you could find this article.


> the US is nowhere near being an authoritarian police state.

The US has the highest incarceration rate on the planet and perhaps in history. I'd say we're there.


When people who are in the majority, politically or ethnically, say they aren't in a police state it's usually because they aren't yet being targeted.


> "She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about... "

It is too expensive and inefficient to follow everyone personally. You can instead shoot a satellite in the space that each second takes high-definition infrared photos of Earth and can pinpoint/track/identify each person by their uniquely located veins/blood packets on their shoulders. See? Khazakhstan v. 2.0.

http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/09/13/secret-us-spy-sate...


The URL does not support any of the assertions in your comment.


It is also from fox'news'...


FYI, drivebyacct2: you've been hellbanned for some reason as well. I looked through your comment history and have no idea why. Just thought you might want to know, as it looks like it happened 2 months ago.


I had the Kazakh "special police" tail then detain me. Plain clothes. We mocked them relentlessly then went on our way.

Secret police in kaz aren't very secret, and I feel far more intruded upon and am more careful about what I say in the US than there.


Replying here because I can't reply to SmokyBorbon directly: your account appears to be hellbanned.


Mod rule strikes again.


There is no slippery slope to authoritarianism. The US might become a police state, but it will not be authoritarian.


I'm not sure I'm following you. How is a democratic police state not de facto authoritarian?


Mob rule is not authoritarian.


> "She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about... "

The thing is, they don't need to follow you around the same way as in the 'old days' because, like many things, modern technology makes it easier and more efficient.

The tyranny of the future isn't going to be like that of the past. That makes it difficult to explain the dangers to people.


One of the scariest parts of this is that it seems like surveillance (if not censorship) is much more targeted. If you aren't the NSA's focus or on a TSA watch list, you might not know anything is going on. But if you are unlucky enough to trigger something, you might be visited with unimaginable torment like @chimeracoder was.


Exactly. The biggest threat from surveillance and censorship isn't the imposition on average citizens.

Rather, the risk is that surveillance, censorship, intimidation, selective law enforcement, and so on are targeted at specific political opponents --- such as Aaron Swartz, Barrett Brown, Glenn Greenwald, Marin Luther King Jr. and so on.

Such authoritarian harassment presents a straightforward threat to democracy because it stifles political dissent.

Democracy is incompatible with the stifling of political dissent.


Too many people view major, rival parties as opponents. Are they waiting for Democrats to imprison Republicans and vice versa? Those parties are brothers. The opposition includes the names you listed and because they don't have that glossy marketed façade and brand, they're viewed by the majority as crazed or rogues.


To be fair, that was not unimaginable torment. I think most people can readily imagine what it would feel like to go through what he went through.


The racist overtones are also scary.


Actually I found two things very scary.

1. The ignorance on the part of the police and agents was stunning. Conflating Hindu and Muslim?

2. The explosive alarms.... Evidently they are set to detect some very common household chemicals. Based on the story I am assuming the culprit in this case was household ammonia. It isn't clear to me that the agents would have any idea as to what could trigger a false positive either.


About the "ignorance" on the part of the FBI guy, I wouldn't believe anything an interrogating officer tells me. Playing dumb is one of the oldest tricks in the book: "So, tell me about the religion you claim to profess and about which I know nothing so you can bullshit me, really".


Anecdote: my sister in law is in the FBI and I can guarantee she doesn't know the first thing about Hinduism. Or Islam for that matter.


The detectors are most certainly cheap ion mobility spectrometers. They ionize the sample and sort the resulting cloud by the speed at which the ions move in an electric field in a low pressure gas. The resulting spectrum is fairly unique to each chemical.

The obvious problem is that you get a superposition of spectrums of multiple chemicals from the sample and that the devices being cheap and fast produce "blurry" spectrums, so you get a lot of false positives.


It isn't a far leap to theorize that a good deal of oppression and aggression comes from an ancient, primal racism: the desire to remove competitive males and tribes from gene pools. Look at the mass number of black males incarcerated in the War on Drugs, and how eagerly we label any military-age males as "enemy combatants" in the War on Terror. You can even read this into Russia's paranoia that the West's "gay propaganda" is a plot to destabilize their collective male fertility.

To say that we're the only species to engage in murder and genocide is flat wrong: chimps will happily murder other chimps, even infants [1]. Maybe we're not as civilized as we think we are, and all the narratives and uniforms and laws are just theater to subsume and rationalize our animal savagery.

Nothing is ever simple, so I can't imagine this tells the whole story, but it's a big big factor, and it doesn't help anyone to ignore it.

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/does-c...


Personally I find the racist overtones to be the least scary aspect of this story. I grew up in rural Texas; for police/government officials to conduct their work with a base level of racism is, while frustrating and sickening, pretty much to be expected. Kafka-esque detention, authoritarian abuse of power, and the hinted-at FBI search of the OP's apartment scare me a lot more.

Hell, casual racism is basically an (awful) American tradition. Unreasonable search and seizure most emphatically isn't.


"Unreasonable search and seizure most emphatically isn't."

Anyone who has been investigated for a DWB might disagree.

Casual racism and unreasonable search and seizure have been pretty consistently tied together as a common standard in policing, not just in the U.S, but across the world. There is something in the way that police organisations operate that makes them particularly susceptible to treating racist stereotypes as probable cause.


"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. but at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."


All of our intuitions betray us these days, whether it is how to behave on a social network or how to properly handle your privacy.


Yes and no. Tyranny always exploits something you previously took for granted as safe, necessary, good.


I've a friend who spent a good deal of time recently in Khazakhstan, and she was very amused by my attempts to express my fears of the United States becoming an authoritarian police state. She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about and all these other sorts of issues.

I grew up in a communist totalitarian regime and I am not amused at all. We live in different world now and even oppressive regimes do things differently but that does not mean they are less dangerous... I would say exactly the opposite. Some person claimed in this discussion that "the US continues to be one of the most free countries in the world in all respects" - I am not sure I personally believe that but my main point is that this does not matter at all even if it were true. There is huge inertia and a country might still seem relatively free even years after it passed the point of no return on the way to oppressive regime. When the situation is so severe that it is visible to everyone... it is already too late and the most likely scenario in that case is that the whole generations will be lost.

It is my impression that people from countries which in their modern history never experienced totalitarian/oppressive regime severely underestimate (or in most cases are totally blind to) warning signs.

For those who are interested please let me offer personal view of someone who does have an experience with totalitarian regime - you might think I am oversensitive but despite the fact that years ago I had spent few months in the US and I loved it and despite the fact that I believe there is nothing about me that could trigger their attention I would still be afraid to visit again and I decided to strictly avoid even flying over the USA.

P.S. The fact that the guy was even refused water just makes me sick.


> She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about and all these other sorts of issues.

She's right, and like her, I have found it next to impossible to explain this to Americans who think the US is turning into a police state.

People making this claim should spend a few hours reading on history and learn about the Gestapo or the Stasi.

What's happening in the US occasionally produces unfortunate episodes, such as the one above, but by and large, the US continues to be one of the most free countries in the world in all respects.


It seems like I'm saying this a lot lately on HN: Better than the worst is not good enough.

Most especially, better than the fucking Nazis is not good enough.

Tyranny does not happen overnight, and it's helped along by people like you who scoff and say "oh, it's not that bad really" until it's too late. "First they came for the Communists..."


> Tyranny does not happen overnight, and it's helped along by people like you who scoff and say "oh, it's not that bad really" until it's too late.

I'm pointing out a logical mistake in someone's reasoning and now I'm helping tyranny?

Don't you think you're taking this a tad too seriously?


> Don't you think you're taking this a tad too seriously?

Those words echo through my head every time I click open one of these threads on HN. It's like suddenly the rich white guy is getting oppressed, so we're obviously in a police state! Never mind for the years leading up to this point, the US was doing much worse shit; they just happened to be doing it to minorities.

And you can see it in this thread. Everyone concentrating on the fact he was detained, not the reasons, when the whole damn article is about how the US treats people who look like they're from certain countries like default terrorists.


This.

I'm half-black. There was never a glorious past that would have suited me better than this moment, right now. Yes, I do worry about total surveillance.


I completely agree with this ...


For me as an outside observer it is the rate of change of the rights and freedoms that is scary and stunning, not the decline in absolute terms.

US involuntarily have all pieces of the puzzle for a very high quality totalitarian state. The question is whether someone will be able to assemble them before the immune system of the american society activates in full force and dismantles them.

Surveillance capabilities: check

Militarized police: check (Balko has some scary data, but haven't checked it thoroughly)

Obedient propaganda machine: not quite there, but as the lead up to the Iraq war showed - achievable.

Secret laws: check

Btw - KGB means "Комитет Государственая Безопасност" which translates into " Committee for State Security" not that far from "Department of Homeland Security"

As John Oliver said a few weeks ago about NSA: "We don't say you broke any laws with what you did, we are surprised you didn't have to."

Lets just hope that the US society will be able to reverse the trend.


Homeland == vaterland. You did not have this term until the DHS came about.


If 'vaterland' is intended to be the German translation of Homeland, then Homeland == Heimat. And although usually an innocuous word, in certain contexts some Nazi connontations cling to it.

The word 'Homeland' actually creeps me out more than 'Heimat'.


Vaterland is "Fatherland". It's the same semantic meaning - although I now note that the NSDAP didn't actually ever use it, and it was allied propaganda that set this in perpetuity in the non-german world. Did not know.


I have very mixed feeling about this.

The Gestapo and the Stasi were evil because they were dedicated to preserving the power of a very small section of the population.

That hasn't happened in the US (yes, it is true that some sections of the population are victimised more than others but nevertheless the US is still a mostly functional democracy).

OTOH, it's not 1981 anymore - they don't need to physically follow people around. Additionally many things that are happening at the moment in the US are reminiscent of the very things that former-communist states were criticised for.

Some specific examples:

* There was outrage when the Berlin wall fell and people discovered that the Stasi had records on 1/3 or the East German population. Now the NSA probably has record on close to 100% of the US population.

* The US used to believe in the idea that everyone had to obey the law and especially the constitution. Now it is accepted doctrine that the President can evade this by using executive orders. That appears to mean that the president has complete, unchecked power and is almost completely above the rule of law.

* Eastern block countries were criticised for the fact that police could stop people and demand to see their papers.


"the US continues to be one of the most free countries in the world in all respects"

I suppose if you ignore the fact that we have an order of magnitude more prisoners than any other country that is true. You cannot claim we are one of the most free countries in all respects when we have so many people in jail (which is basically the polar opposite of freedom).

"People making this claim should spend a few hours reading on history and learn about the Gestapo or the Stasi."

So if we have not yet descended to the level of the Nazis, we could not be a police state? This kind of "race to the bottom" attitude is dangerously misguided. We already have soldiers enforcing the law. We already have combination law-enforcement/intelligence agencies. We know that the police are lying to judges and prosecutors about how they gathered their evidence. Peaceful political protesters have discovered undercover police spies sent to their groups. Even if we accepted your extreme definition of a police state, we are in a lot of trouble as things stand right now.


As venomsnake points out, the concern is not these "unfortunate episodes"--aberrations of justice do happen from time to time, and though we ought strive for perfection it is only human that sometimes we'll goof.

No, no, what is troubling is when you look at the system as a whole and how it is evolving, and you start to ask questions:

1. Is there a best effort attempt at justice for all?

2. Is there any ongoing program to limit and reduce .gov security organs?

3. Is there anything to be done peacefully if the .gov security organ decides to attack dissenters?

4. What is the cost of non-peacefully reigning in a malfunctioning .gov security organ?

1 is far from sure, 2 is a no, and 3 is an empathic "oh shit", and 4 is just a shitshow.

The concern must not be "how bad are the outliers today"--the concern must be "are we setting up a system which will be infeasible to repair in the next five to ten years".


"the US continues to be one of the most free countries in the world in all respects."

If this is true, then why does it jail more people per capita than any other country by a long, long way?

Your population can't be simultaneously one of the most free and be the most incarcerated, as that makes no sense.


It depends, some other possible explanations could be that the US justice system is that much more effective or that US inhabitants are that much more disobedient to the same laws than those of other countries. Not saying that's the case, just wouldn't be so quick to dismiss anything. US can indeed be said that are among the most free countries, but that doesn't really say anything without clarifying who we are comparing them with! My impression is that US is one of the least free countries by a relatively small margin when we compare them to most European countries and one of the most free ones, by a relatively large margin, if we consider the state of most African and Asian ones -but I think that if someone is even bothering to seriously make that last comparison, that alone is an indication that something is wrong in the US.


"could be that the US justice system is that much more effective"

If the effectiveness of a justice system is seen in terms of rate of incarceration, then the society that takes that view does not sound particularly as though it believes in freedom as a fundamental value, but rather prefers values like retribution and security through deferment to authority.

"US inhabitants are that much more disobedient to the same laws than those of other countries"

This doesn't hold any water either. For one thing disobedience is an aspect of freedom itself, so that a free society would presumably have a reasonable tolerance to simple disobedience and wouldn't use disobedience in and of itself to justify incarceration and would need to establish harm and public interest. Also, the rate of incarceration in the US is so massively higher than other countries that it becomes patently ridiculous to try and justify it by claiming people in the US are that much less moral than other people and so need locking up more.

I know you don't subscribe to these stances and say that they are just other possible explanations, however I do not think they qualify as possible explanations, as they have some incompatibilities with the general concept of freedom, and the actual situation in the US.


"If the effectiveness of a justice system is seen in terms of rate of incarceration, then the society that takes that view does not sound particularly as though it believes in freedom as a fundamental value, but rather prefers values like retribution and security through deferment to authority."

There are certain behaviors that the society has to be protected from, right? After all, freedom doesn't mean much if i.e. you can be attacked, killed or have your properly stolen without consequences. Incarceration might not be a particular effective method, but how else do you propose such cases should be dealt with?

it becomes patently ridiculous to try and justify it by claiming people in the US are that much less moral than other people

Not saying that people in the US are "less moral", as this could create the wrong impression, still US do appear to have significantly higher rates in homicides and violent crimes. I.e.

"In 2004, there were 5.5 homicides for every 100,000 persons, roughly three times as high as Canada (1.9) and six times as high as Germany (0.9)"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States#Inte...

"I know you don't subscribe to these stances and say that they are just other possible explanations

The reason that I am looking for other possible explanations is that I don't feel the massively higher number of incarceration that you are mentioning is reflected by a similarly massive difference in the laws, culture and practices of the US compared to other developed countries. I mean, simply put, what are the things that in the US would get you in jail and they wouldn't in, let's say, the UK? Somehow I don't feel they are that many to justify a massive difference in incarceration numbers.


"I mean, simply put, what are the things that in the US would get you in jail and they wouldn't in, let's say, the UK?"

There is no way in the UK to get a life sentence from a small crime in the way that the three strikes laws do in the US.

In general our jail sentences are much shorter for equivalent crimes in the US and we have nowhere near the rate of incarcerating children either and are much less likely to get the police involved for misbehaving in school.

We are also much less likely to incarcerate for drug possession over here.

There are also crimes that simply do not exist in the UK, such as jaywalking, which got the Oxford historian, Professor Felipe Fernández-Armesto, locked up for the evening when he visited Atlanta for a conference. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/jan/11/highereducation.ed...

The US also has a habit of handing out sentences far longer than the possible lifespan of the accused even for non-violent offences, such as the 124 years that Hector Monsegur is being threatened with for his role in lulzsec, or the 150 years handed out to Bernie Madoff, which the Judge stated was "to send a symbolic message".

Overall, for the same acts, in the US you are much more likely to be jailed than in the UK and also, even if you would have been jailed in the UK, the length of sentence is far far higher in the US.


I was in Kazakhstan recently. I am Muslim, religious, have beard etc... I had interview with nice КНБ (http://www.knb.kz/) agent right after customs. It was about 1 minute after which I was free to go. Nothing like experience described here.


I'm white, not religious, had a car spray painted with maltese crosses and puerile jokes.

We stopped and chatted for a few minutes on the border from Russia to Kaz, and they let us go on their way. No in-depth search, no bribes, no nothing. Oh, and they take their border security seriously - they just don't do security theatre.


> She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about

You know, it strikes me that one of the large differences between most of these countries, and the US, is the relative size of the population to the government+military. For having a population of 300mm people, somewhere less than 5 million people (~1.7%) work in the US public sector.

What this means is, we could have just as many secret police following people as happens under any repressive regime--but the vast majority of US citizens would never be aware of it, since in relative terms "being followed around by a black van" would be about as rare per capita as "being struck by lightning." You wouldn't personally know anyone it had happened to, you'd only read about it--and so you'd think it wasn't really a thing that happens here.


"The distressing thing is that we've been putting so much machinery into place, and gotten the noose so well fitted, that when the bottom drops out we'll only have the briefest of short, sharp shocks before we find ourselves in a terrifyingly efficient machine of oppression."

wow - what a brilliant way of describing it


> She laughed and said that no, I did not understand what it was to have secret police following you about and all these other sorts of issues.

That's the NSA's job, or so they think....


What a great analogy!


What's her experiences with Kazakhstan exactly?

I've never been there but would expect from any post-soviet country a great deal of nobody caring about you and not many secret police anywhere.


The ex-soviet central Asian republics are packed full of secret police -- until 2006, Turkmenistan boasted one of the world's most famous totalitarian regimes under his Amazingself-for-life President Niyazov, and although his successor has made some reforms, things haven't gotten much better since Niyazov's death. The other republics share the same kind of government to a greater or lesser extent. IWPR at http://iwpr.net has amazing independent coverage of Central Asia, the Balkans, and Africa, and is a good place to keep abreast of what's going on in those regions.

You may be thinking of the former Eastern Bloc countries, which with a few notable exceptions have followed a much more democratic path after the fall of the Iron Curtain.


Kazakhstan is nothing like Turkmenistan in this regard. In fact, it's nothing like Uzbekistan even.

In terms of personal freedoms, average life in Kazakhstan is on par with the US, if not "freer" than the US. It's certainly no police state.


I agree, and shouldn't have painted all the Central Asian republics with the same broad brush (that wasn't really my intent, but I see how it came out).


Agreed. Kaz is very free, compared to, say, Kyrgyz, or Uzbek, or Turkmen. It's also very free compared to the US. You can see the "secret" police. They stand out like sore thumbs, as they're mostly Russians, and dress different, and harass people.

I think that she may have mistaken overt police corruption for a police state. The two are not synonymous.


I'd say this is probably true for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as those countries have powerful authoritarian leaders that fully enjoy the benefits of the security apparatus left over from the USSR.

Tajikistan is different as the president's power is somewhat limited the further away you go from the few important cities.

Don't know much about Kazakhstan, but I suspect it's more or less like Uzbekistan.


Been there. Nothing like Uzbekistan. And Uzbekistan is nothing like Turkmen. Just because they're in the same (HUGE) part of the world doesn't make them all the same.

Mexicans, Americans, Ecuadorians, what's the difference?


They are not all the same. I was replying to the OP's comment:

> The ex-soviet central Asian republics are packed full of secret police.


It is common mistake to count all countries with names ending "*stan" as one totalitarian region. I live in Kazakhstan whole my life (30yr) and I or all my friends hadn't any issues with police. We have one big drawback, it's called corruption, but all countries have to pass through this desease.


Yup - exactly what I just said. Kaz is VERY free compared to the US.

Put it this way - at the border between Kaz and Uzbek, we...

Stole the border guard's hat.

Wore it.

In front of him.

Stole his gun.

Wore it.

In front of him.

Then all sat around together laughing and joking eating pot noodles.

Had we done the same in the US, I would not be writing this, as I would likely have been shot dead on the spot.


Turkmenistan is something special, I've heard of that.

I'm not saying anything about "democratic path". That I am saying is about nobody caring about anything (probably with an exception of taking bribes) in most of ex-USSR countries.


The distressing thing is that we've been putting so much machinery into place, and gotten the noose so well fitted, that when the bottom drops out we'll only have the briefest of short, sharp shocks before we find ourselves in a terrifyingly efficient machine of oppression.

Or you can take the train.


TSA does more than just airports

"With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals."

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/us/tsa-expands-duties-beyo...


That thought is terrifying.

I was afraid I was going to be put on the no-fly list afterwards and would have to travel back to NYC by train (a four-day trip).

Even before this experience I used to avoid flying in favor of taking the train. I don't know what I'd do if the TSA became commonplace at train stations.


I haven't flown since shortly after you had to take off your shoes to get through security, taking Amtrak instead, and I've only ever even seen two people searched by TSA. You barely even see them, and if you do, they're usually sitting around looking bored.

I suspect that they only bother to do the random searches if they've gotten some specific alert or warning.

Many, many trips between Chicago and SF, Portland, and Texas, or rather, California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Texas Eagle, and Spirit of New Orleans etc. Haven't had any need to go through Bloombergville, though so ymmv.


They're rare... for now. The trend is solidly up, though.


I have a few friends/coworkers that almost always get searched. They all share some things in common, like their skin color.


A terrorist would have to put a single bomb on a single train to drastically change things. The TSA would then step in and do all the heavy lifting for them, creating terror and removing freedom.


Yes, I have the bad luck of not being white also. I've gone through secondary screening a few times although luckily never anything like this and I've never setup the bomb alarms. The double clinch is that we're all paying a lot of money to keep this program going that just slows us down during our travels with out actually increasing security in any meaningful way. It's just a secret form of welfare as far as I'm compared. Making up busy work for a bunch of people to do to make people feel more secure, falsely, and boost employment numbers.


Yes, I suppose to some extent. Is the thought of getting blown up terrifying? Is there some trade-off at work here? Where is the line?


Take the bus? Drive?


Have you driven near the border? Driving through west Texas I was met by stop and go traffic for 5 miles. Middle of the desert. I kept driving and realized border patrol had blocked the interstate and was diverting traffic through a checkpoint. Hundreds of cameras and drug dogs everywhere. I drove up and the agent asked me if I'm a US citizen. Then I was free to go.

It's not that simple. It's very very hard to travel if the government doesn't want you to.


> had blocked the interstate

There's a permanent roadblock across northbound lanes of interstates in New Mexico (and, I think, Arizona), and across many of the smaller roads in southern Arizona (and, presumably, New Mexico).

> if I'm a US citizen. Then I was free to go.

It also helps to be white, fwiw.


Try driving from San Diego to Los Angeles: there are permanent checkpoints a solid hour's drive from the border — and quite a few non-white residents complain about getting unpleasant levels of attention.


And when the TSA is at all bus stations and gates access to roads? Do you walk?

Logic like this means you essentially hide from the problem until there's nowhere left. What happens then?


Doesn't this mean we shouldn't have any laws, because one day the laws could be used to imprison everyone and use their internal organs to produce email spam?

The point is, I think we still have travel alternatives and legal protections from abuse.

The federal government only has the authority to affect travel between states, not within a single state. If the TSA starts interfering with movement in a single state (like on the NYC subway system), we'll see pushback from the state and local governments.


> If the TSA starts interfering with movement in a single state

You mean, if the TSA starts screening (and, thus, assuming the power to reject) passengers for intrastate air travel, like they have been since day one of TSA operations?


If the TSA starts interfering with movement in a single state (like on the NYC subway system), we'll see pushback from the state and local governments.

Nope, in fact NYC welcomed the Terrorists' Surrogate Army invasion of the subway.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Juvdi2TdeXY


Please stop. Your comments here are glib, contemptuous and entirely unhelpful.


Stallman has said as much. But if he said the US are Nazis that would be helpful, right?


Just because I'm not hysterical about the TSA doesn't mean I can't comment here.

When you travel by air, you are cramming yourself into a small metal tube with 300 other people. The other 299 people want everyone there to be checked for weapons, so the government does this.

If you want to be able to travel without being screened, there are tons of options available to you. But the reality is, you have no right in the US to travel, and the government can set whatever standards they want for public spaces. There are plenty of options available for traveling without being screened. They cost more than the mainstream ones. (Buy your own plane and see how many TSA checkpoints you go through.) But just because something is expensive doesn't mean that you are being deprived by the government of some right.

If you want to fight the TSA, shouting "police state" just makes you look stupid. You should figure out how to examine the effectiveness of the TSA numerically, and explain that to your elected representatives. Has the TSA slowed the growth of the air travel industry? Are there racist patterns in the TSA's profiling? If you can prove something with data, people will listen. But whining about the end of the world on a website nobody reads isn't going to solve any problems. It just makes you look like an out-of-touch anti-authoritarian teenager.

Look: I really believe that you can get around the TSA and that it isn't a police state. This is not the Holocaust. This is not the end of the world. It's just an inconvenience you have to pay to get a $200 round-the-world flight.


"But the reality is, you have no right in the US to travel"

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/, article 13.1: "Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state."

"and the government can set whatever standards they want for public spaces"

So, in your opinion, a government can decree that whites can't travel first class in planes, or that women must wear a burkha on the street?

For me, all that hyperbole makes it hard to see what value your arguments have.


No offense, but you're the one misinterpreting what I wrote with hyperbole. Show me the line of the Constitution that lets you travel by air.


I can't believe what I'm reading from jrockway, a Google employee whose past comments seem very level-headed, in these threads. I _REALLY HOPE_ your account has been hijacked because if a person like you really holds these opinions then I must be a very, very horrible judge of character. Makes me wonder about all the people around me that I think are on the same wave-length when it comes to the whole terrorism & FUD thing. I feel betrayed somehow. If this is really you then it shows just how far & deep the terrorism-FUD has reached. Or maybe it's just me who had no idea until now, just how fearful the american public has become. Reading these comments from you is almost like imagining Stephen Colbert saying this stuff. I'd just assume his twitter account was hacked or it was April fool's.


Show me the line of the Constitution that lets you travel by air.

Show me the line that says it has to have such a line.

Article the eleventh .... The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article the twelfth ... The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/United_States_Bill_of_Rights)

Further, show me the line of the constitution that specifies the technology by which any of its rights are to be executed.


  Show me the line that says it has to have such a line.
This! I may be an atheist European very fond of our socialist democrat government, but the bottom line is: the government should regulate what the population thinks should be regulated and not a bit more.

If I want to fly and apply myself fulltime, I can have my flying license in a month, being free to roam most of the national airspace (as long as I tell some people where I'm going, so they can help me prevent collisions).

I would surely expect it to be the same in the US: everyone has the right to travel by air, provided they adhere to a minimal set of guidelines to prevent them from endangering themselves or others in ways obviously directly related to the 'flying' itself (and not to e.g. the suspicion that someone might have a 1% higher change of using the plane for a terrorist attach).


Funnily enough, they didn't bother dealing with legal references to air travel before planes were invented. You will also notice that they made no references to space travel either, or computers.


but they don't mention horses either. the method of travel is irrelevant.


Really? Well, I suppose it worked for Hannibal across the Alps...


news.ycombinator.com/leaders may prove enlightening. [EDIT: he really did make this argument, but it seems to have disappeared.]

What happened? Did you have a stroke? Are you actually jrockway's brother-in-law, "borrowing" his handle?


I don't understand why everyone is so outraged that I don't think the US is a police state. "Airport security is horrible", so I say to take the train. Have you ever taken the train? The security is not that bad. But instead, I get downvoted to -4 and people accuse me of having a stroke.

All I can say is that the hysteria is at an amazingly-high level. I am not sure why I even read TSA-related articles anymore.


In many, many cases, trains are simply infeasible. Family across the country? Budget a week just to get there to visit them, with all that awesome plentiful vacation time American companies are known for? Come on. Modern life makes flying necessary for a ton of people. They have to fly or they don't go. That is de facto control of your travel: risk assault and detention if you're brown. Control of your travel is a major aspect of every modern authoritarian state, and that's why people are alarmed.

I think the reason people are incredulous because your claims are blinkered. You're a sharp dude. I like most of your posts. But you are just not aggressively shortsighted enough to be excusing this with a straight face.

And your argumentum ad leaderboardum sucked transcendentally. You are totally, totally better than that.


I don't think the U.S. is a police state.

But I do think that the answer to someone being mistreated at airport security shouldn't be to "take the train". It is true that the train will probably not have as onerous security requirements, but then that isn't really the point either.

If we put restrictions on a mode of transportation those restrictions should in general be in keeping with some legit governmental goal. "Airport security" does meet this, but I don't think we can say the same for all of the treatment OP actually received.


> But I do think that the answer to someone being mistreated at airport security shouldn't be to "take the train".

It should be at least part of the answer; a big part of the idea of the TSA (and one of the reasons the airlines got on board to help lobby for it) was that it moved the responsibility and potential liability from the airlines to the government (who, incidentally, has a whole host of immunities to deal with the "liability" aspect.)

Voting with your dollars away from industries whose services require being subjected to the TSA sends a message -- not directly to the government, but to the industries involved.

That's not to say its the only response, but voting-with-dollars ought to be part of the response.


Take the bus? Drive? as a suggestion to avoid the TSA is not valid, I am not sure whether you are aware of this, by the way train travel is covered too:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/02/29/the-tsa-is-c...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visible_Intermodal_Prevention_...

(EDIT: I misquoted you from memory)


I no longer fly since the TSA started. I have also looked into taking the train, once from Ft. Lauderdale (where I live, close enough) to Las Vegas (where some friends of mine live). To say the results were amusing is an understatement.

First, it was easily three times the cost of a round-trip ticket. Okay, I'm willing to pay. Second, we're talking about four or five days worth of travel, which, again, might be okay, except that I end up at Salt Lake City (yeah, that far north) on a bus headed south to Las Vegas.

So much for a train to Las Vegas.

Okay, how about Seattle? The company I work for (in Ft. Lauderdale) is headquartered in Seattle. That was an easy $2,000 train ticket taking a week to travel one way.

If I wanted to take the train to Washington, D.C.? No problem there. Same with a train to New York, New York. Boston. In fact, if you are somewhere along the east coast of the US and want to head to the major northeast cities, you will probably have no issues taking the train. Elsewhere? Probably not.


And before anyone asks, taking the bus. I just did a quick search for a bus trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Las Vegas. It was $430 one way, taking two days. Better than the train, but three times the price of an airplane. (http://www.rome2rio.com/s/Fort-Lauderdale/Las-Vegas)


There has been a noted increase of posts containing "lol" and other indicators of decline.

Edit: If you think posts with lol are a good thing please say why.


run a grep for el oh el on your post there before and after the edit.


"This is not the Holocaust." yet. "This is not the end of the world." yet. I'm sure many Germans and Italians (or any society on the brink of autocratic rule) felt as you do now. But the end result is strikingly similar. Small erosion of liberties leads to escalation until it becomes the status quo of not having those liberties in the first place. Funny how this world works, labor is restricted yet capital can flow freely. Smith and Ricardo must be turning in their graves.


Indeed. A lot of the dismissers should have a walk through the Holocaust Memorial ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Murdered_Jews_o... ) to "understand" how does it feel to enter an autocratic regime: When you just start walking, everything seems OK, columns all look the same height and you can easily see the other side. But suddenly you are in the middle of a huge maze with very tall walls, which does not seem to have an end in sight.

People won't realize the problem until it is too late.


> "This is not the Holocaust." yet.

Get some perspective.


Genuinely hope you get hellbanned for this. If the HN moderators apply the same standards to you as they do to everyone else you should be.


What, because of the cursing? [EDIT: which has now been edited out; too bad, I always appreciate a sincere "Fuck you!"] Let's not be censorious. I can think of some hellbanned who didn't obviously deserve it, but most of the ones I've seen did obviously deserve it. Are you seriously going to argue that jrockway is as bad as the guy who posts all his personal revelations from the Lord? [EDIT: I'm talking about the richly-deserving-of-his-hellban "losethos": that guy's ramblings are always worth a drag of the trackball.]

And like jrockway said, he is somehow on the leader board. That probably ought to mean something.


I'm not going to jump on the "hellban jrockway" bandwagon, but I will say that I don't see any reason that being on the leaderboard should net anyone special treatment. The "board" shows history... what you did in the past doesn't change the effect or merit of your current behavior.

By analogy - should someone automatically be pardoned for a crime they commit today (let's go extreme and say murder), because they had displayed good behavior in the past?

All of this said, I am a bit surprised by some of jrockway's comments in this thread, given his posting history. Almost enough to wonder if someone else has taken control of his account.


The fact that he's on the leaderboard means precisely nothing except to indicate he's on the leaderboard.

Plenty of other people have been banned for saying "Fuck you" on here, and it's interesting that jrockway silently edited his comment to remove his swearing at someone else on here, as well as removing his invitation to check that he's a huge karma accumulator - which he seems to think actually means something.

Anyway, I"m not a mod, just someone who's a bit tired of one set of people being treated differently.


[EDIT: I'm talking about the richly-deserving-of-his-hellban "losethos": that guy's ramblings are always worth a drag of the trackball.]

losethos is a talented programmer with schizophrenia. The reason his posts deserve to be killed is because they are 98% content free and occasionally disturbed, paranoid, and racist, hallmarks of schizophrenia. But losethos the person, as a human being in distress, doesn't deserve any of that.


Of course, thanks for the clarification. I'm not sure what it would mean to "hellban" an actual person as such, but I should have made it more clear that I was referring to the handle "losethos" rather than the human or humans associated with it.


While I agree with the idea that there needs to be some type of security screening for aircraft, I don't think it necessarily follows that we should tell people to either accept episodes like this one or take alternate transportation.

With AQAP's bomb-making experts (who can make bombs with no metal parts whatsoever now) I can see why they need to make super-duper sure that a hit for explosive material is absolutely a false positive.

But that doesn't explain the rude treatment, the confiscation of gear, the refusal to provide water, or having 5 different government agencies (and JetBlue) all gang up on him.

There has to be a more "public serving" way to handle the necessary task of public safety.


Instead of forcing others to waste their time and money to suit your irrational need for a security theatre, why don't spend your own time and money moving somewhere else with lots of security - like North Korea.


There's a poem that describes this behaviour: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came…


You must be from Hawaii.


Across the country for a 7 day event? Seems extreme.


Yes, but they show up occasionally in those contexts, usually in the wake of some specific threats. When you take a plane they're there every time.


Is this a joke? I was searched by the TSA the last time I took Amtrak. They just plopped down a table in the middle of Penn Station and went to town.


I'm pretty sure that was the NYPD. Unlike the TSA searches, you can refuse to comply with those.


It is plausible that it was the TSA's "VIPR".

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/08/10/vipr-a10.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/us/tsa-expands-duties-beyo...

(Side note, who the hell comes up with these names, and why hasn't somebody with some experience with marketing and PR talked to them?)


>marketing and PR

Oh, they have it. You're just not the TSA's customer.


Are they trying to pitch a new line of action figures for the G.I. Joes to fight to Hasbro? "VIPR" is just plain silly.


Given the actual behavior of the government, I think it's a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that some of our "elected" officials have actually just decided to play supervillain.


A name that clearly shows the abbreviation came first


No, it was the TSA - but Amtrak has dictated exactly how they must behave in stations, and you rarely hear a peep from them.

----

Rail's handling of TSA should be a model

http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/06/opinion/don-phillips-tsa-vipr-...


Rail has the advantage that they can just shut down commerce across the country for a few days if the government does anything they don't like, and they have the balls to do it.


Well, Amtrak doesn't have that power, and I doubt the freight companies care what TSA does with Amtrak.


Amtrak doesn't actually own the rails (except in the northeast, I think). That's where we're talking about here, but in Seattle BNSF owns the track so TSA would have to deal with them.


Do they? Seeing as how tech companies aren't allowed to divulge they're the NSA's bitches and have to hand over all their data, I don't think that public services like trains (or electricity, etc) are allowed to shut down their services if they disagree with the government's imposed security measures. Pretty sure there's sections in the anti-terrorism laws that say companies need to comply when the government brings in counter-terrorism measures like searches and the like.

Besides, they'd probably comply willingly. The airline companies and airports do; hijackings just ain't good for business.


Wouldn't it be Amtrak Police in Penn Station? You don't normally see NYPD in there


NYPD are the ones carrying around machine guns, I think.


T.S.A. officials respond that the random searches are “special needs” or “administrative searches” that are exempt from probable cause because they further the government’s need to prevent terrorist attacks.

Sigh.


From a legal perspective there's actually a valid point here: they're not conducting universal searches for evidence to use in criminal prosecution, which is mostly the sense that the 4th Amendment is interpreted as applying to. Rather, they're simply enforcing a mandate not to let certain types of objects enter a specified area. Effectively they're arguing that it's no different from, say, a courthouse which has a "No Firearms Permitted" sign on the door and guards and metal detectors to enforce that policy, and for the most part such things are widely accepted to be constitutional.

The main way to fight these "administrative searches" is to show that they are too invasive, or not narrowly tailored to achieve their purpose, both of which are criteria US courts have shown they care about.


> In April 2012, during a joint operation with the Houston police and the local transit police, people boarding and leaving city buses complained that T.S.A. officers were stopping them and searching their bags. (Local law enforcement denied that the bags were searched.)

> The operation resulted in several arrests by the local transit police, mostly for passengers with warrants for prostitution and minor drug possession.

Not really meeting the criteria you're talking about.


So someone should sue over that operation.

Meanwhile, universal searching (at first by metal detector, later by other means) of passengers at airports has long been held constitutional by courts; if they step outside the boundaries of what's permitted, you can haul them into court over it.


if they step outside the boundaries of what's permitted, you can haul them into court over it.

;..whereupon they will promptly grant themselves immunity.


If you accept it by ignoring it, you're just waiting for them to come for your next means of transportation.

You need to speak up and protest _before_ it is too late. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came…


You can take the train for now. The TSA is already nosing around trying to insinuate themselves into train travel, and it's hard to see what could stop them if they decided to make a serious push for it.


Once you get out of your mom's basement and step out into the real world you may realize that the train is not a realistic option for the majority of the US population.


The drop seems shorter if you keep your eyes closed.


Oh, there may not be a choice about that.


tbh, when it comes to terrorist threats, I don't get it. The train is a much more obvious target - no security checks whatsoever, and yet, a bomb exploding in the front of a high-speed train (or just one at a particular location) will cause massive casualties. Hell, you don't even need a bomb, just look at the accident with the high-speed train in Spain the other day, just speed and not breaking is enough.

tbh, terrorists are kinda stupid.


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