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The New York Times - A Surprised Bush Says He Wants New Travel Rules Reconsidered


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The New York Times - A Surprised Bush Says He Wants New Travel Rules Reconsidered
Topic: Miscellaneous 10:53 pm EDT, Apr 14, 2005

] President Bush said Thursday that he had been surprised
] to learn in the newspaper of his administration's
] decision last week to require Americans to have passports
] to enter the country from Mexico or Canada by 2008. He
] said he had asked the State and Homeland Security
] Departments to look into other means of tightening border
] security.

Thank you Mr. Bush!

Er... Wait... Fingerprints? I agree that we should not implement a policy that slows the flow of cross border traffic. I don't agree that the solution is to biometric everyone.

There are deep questions here that require some pause for reflection.

You want to have an efficient border. You want to control access. Biometrics, properly implemented, are well suited to this application, whereas they are not well suited to many applications people attempt to apply them to. But this is simply the technical argument.

The real question is whether we want to collect biometrics from everyone. Do you want your government files to be nonreputible? In many people's cases it doesn't matter, because you've already given up your fingerprint for immigration or drivers licenses or because you were booked on a charge. The frogs are already fairly warm.

Its really hard to go through life without getting fingerprinted by the government.

I think that driver's license biometrics are unconstitutional. I have never, ever seen driver's license biometrics actually used to authenticate a holder of a driver's license. Its simply a way of collecting biometrics that police can use in investigations. You could almost argue that its a "pre-search." Its clearly a 4th amendment violation to fingerprint everyone in a town in the wake of a crime to find the criminal, but if we do it in the context of driver's licenses then its not a "search" and so its OK(?!)

This is an example of creeping technological efficiency on the part of the government. The threat is that technological efficiency serves the government regardless of whether it's intentions are good. One reflexively fears this, thinking of the IBM punch card systems used to tabulate Jews in Germany.

But what is the alternative? If you want to control border access then it makes sense to apply these technologies. The alternative is to not control border access. But people reflexively see border control as a smart anti-terrorism strategy.

Is it? Objectively, has anyone really asked and answered whether this is the right way to deal with terrorism? Or is it simply a system that is more effective for other purposes that gets sold as an anti-terror tool? What are those other purposes?

These are the questions which are typically overlooked in these kinds of discussions. I imagine they are being overlooked here. The problem is that I don't know who knows enough about this problem to really know who is able to address these questions critically. Terrorists were stopped at the Canadian border in 1999.

However, the better you control borders the more you have a Berlin Wall. I see walls between societies as a sign of failure. Failure to communicate. Failure to understand. Failure to accept.

Once the wall is complete, who will be allowed to pass? Today that question is only somewhat important. If you really want to, you can pass regardless of whether or not you are allowed to. In the future, that question may be vital, as the answer will be final. You'll be locked in your country. If they do something you don't like, you may not be able to leave.

Many of our laws are overzealous because enforcement is inefficient. They are designed that way intentionally. They make examples of people. They deter rather then prevent. If you were to combine our current system of regulations and punishments with a perfect enforcement regime, you would have a country that is a great deal less free then the one you live in today. That is exactly where all this technology is taking us.

A society that can face these challenges effectively must believe in freedom at it's core. Americans do not believe in freedom. (I'll bet I just offended you. GOOD!) Americans believe that it ought to be illegal to buy beer after 10:30 and everyone who rides a bicycle should be forced to wear a helmet and you should be fined for practicing golf in a public park and 17 year olds should be prohibited from watching movies about robots from the future.

The American idea of "freedom" is synonymous with national pride. By freedom, Americans really mean American, not free. The rubber doesn't really meet the road when it comes to practical questions about what government should and should not regulate. Americans regulate everything their constitution doesn't explicitly prevent them from regulating. No one stands up and says we shouldn't have this law because people ought to be free to make their own choices and be responsible for themselves. No one but the group getting trampled. And such arguments are never persuasive when weighed against the statistical "good" that regulations achieve.

If people all wear helmets, deaths go down. If childern don't see violence, they are less violent. Saving lives is obviously more important then some whiney jerk who doesn't want to wear a helmet. How trite! Tell him to stuff it! Pass the law!

The buck only stops when its actually unconstitutional, and the laws are overturned. And the Republicans, who fancy themselves advocates of personal responsibility, are actively and presently seeking to smash that one last line that stands between our country and an Orwellian nightmare.

A society that truly believes in freedom takes the cost of regulation seriously and weighs the necessity of regulation gravely. We do not. A society that truly believes in freedom regulates as an absolute last resort. We regulate as a first resort, and a second resort, and a fifth resort, and a fiftieth resort.

And that's what really bothers me about all of this... You're going to live in a society where every behavior is controlled and enforcement is absolute. It will be legal to hold any opinion you want about it, and express that on the internet, but it won't matter. No one will listen to you, and there will be absolutely nothing that you can do about it, and if you really piss people off they'll come for you, as your name, address, and phone number will be publically displayed in the whois database. But at least you'll know you're free. And you'll have a big, fat grin on your face about it. You already do.

The New York Times - A Surprised Bush Says He Wants New Travel Rules Reconsidered

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