Bold Words Used for Bad

Two posts on on Boing Boing caught my attention, and both highlight ideas gone bad that used bold, scary words to gain support.

REAL ID (links Boing Boing, The Privacy Coalition, & epic.org) is the government’s hare-brained attempt to create a national ID standard. Hello? Does this make anyone else’s skin crawl? I’m also concerned by the lack of limits in place to control appropriate and inappropriate use of the data. And the 9/11 Commission gave Congress and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the perfect soundbite to make this whole thing sound reasonable:

For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons … All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these forms of identification would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities.” (link)

Yep. I can see it now. Some guy, bent on killing people will let a piece of paper stop him. Luckily, I live in a state that has refused to cooperate. Why do I suspect that some brain trust in Washington will eventually conclude that we need RFID chips in these IDs too (new passports have them)?

DHS has also helpfully provided a Q&A section on the REAL ID guidelines. Here’s one of my favorites:

Is this a National ID card?

No. The proposed regulations establish common standards for States to issue licenses. The Federal Government is not issuing the licenses, is not collecting information about license holders, and is not requiring States to transmit license holder information to the Federal Government that the Government does not already have (such as a Social Security Number). Most States already routinely collect the information required by the Act and the proposed regulations.

The states are already sharing information with the federal government. REAL ID just sets a common standard. RRRRRiiiiigggghhhhtttt.
What makes me angry is that politicians and bureaucrats try to scare people with words. They try to convince individuals that if you let us curtail your freedom just a teeny-tiny bit, you’ll be that much safer. Over two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin got it right:

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” (link)

Now for the next post via LawGeek. If you can imagine, tourism in the U.S. has taken a hit since we came up with the really good idea of fingerprinting and, in general, harassing everyone who enters the country. Here’s just a sample from the original story in The New Zealand Herald:

Such fears are fuelled by the horror stories. Earlier this year a friend of mine was detained for hours and strip-searched at LAX for a minor visa infraction. He was finally allowed to enter the US, on the condition he departed the next day. “I won’t be coming back,” he said.

Again, the U.S. government would have you believe that such measures close security gaps. In this instance, we blame fingerprinting on other countries:

“As the world community combats terrorism … you’re going to see more and more countries going to a form of biometric identification to confirm identities,” Ridge said. (link)

Then, my favorite rationale for U.S. Visit (the program responsible for fingerprinting and visitor tracking), there’s always the 9/11 hijackers:

When visitors depart, the government will verify their identities and capture departure information. “This tells the Department of Homeland Security if that person entered legally may have stayed illegally, as the 9/11 terrorists did,” Hutchinson said. “Currently, there is no way to know when or even if our visitors leave–but under U.S. Visit, that will change.” (link)

For centuries, government has used powerful rhetoric to gain the support of it’s citizenry. This is a valid and completely appropriate use of rhetoric. And some of the boldest thinkers have held public office. However, when scare tactics and fear become the underlying theme for government action and oversight, I start to wonder. Scared people will do things they’d never consider otherwise, including opening the door to government intrusion, because they aren’t the ones breaking the law. Right?

So think long and hard about using fear to express your ideas. For me, it always begs the question, “If this is so great, why are you trying to scare me into agreeing with you?”



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May 2007
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