Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ze Pehppers, Zey Are In Ordnung, Ja?

PapersPlease is an interesting site, the one-and-two pitch count of civil liberties sites. Like so many other things, I found it because General J.C. Christian told me to, in reference to the case of Deborah Davis of Colorado. Ms. Davis is a former user of public transit in the city of Denver. One day, she was riding the bus to work, and the bus entered the grounds of the Denver Federal Center, which it does as part of its normal route. Federal security contractors boarded the bus, demanding identification from passengers (apparently the bus's route passes through the DFC on its way elsewhere). They were followed by uniformed Federal Protective Service officers when Ms. Davis refused to produce identification.

The FPS truppen believed that they were asking for identification because these people were entering a loosely secured federal campus. Ms. Davis thought she was riding the freakin' bus. Hilarity did not ensue, and Ms. Davis was handed two citations relating to her failure to produce identification that she admitted she possessed. Everybody did their job; the FPS truppen made America secure, and Ms. Davis set up the court case she plainly intended to set up. Why the hell else would you not just show your drivers' license and allow the bus and its other occupants to be on their way?

Both sides are victims here. Of course Ms. Davis should not have to produce identification for no reason other than that she is riding a city transit bus. And the FPS pawns didn't have much choice but to adhere to the prescribed policies for people entering DFC (even those merely transiting).

Surely some procedural accomodation could be reached; one of my offices is on a federal campus that is located at a major transit hub. The campus is also across the street from a pretty large Navy facility. Until the government built an eight-foot perimeter fence, the campus was, at best, loosely secured. They got the idea for the eight-foot perimeter fence after our Navy neighbors built theirs. The bus and subway stops are outside of the security perimeter. To breach the perimeter, I must show my U.S. government-issued photo identification. When Tom Ridge or his descendants decree a color elevation in the security rainbow, or when our President is scheduled to speak here or across the street, I am bomb-sniffed.

That is the extent of security; absent heightened color, or secret dignitaries. On an ordinary day, I could drive in a bomb or a crate of assault rifles or an assload of immigrant gardeners. Heck, I could even drive in a carload of hookers, but we all know how I feel about violating the Mann Act.

Apparently, the Denver Federal Center houses agencies that are not remotely related to national security or law enforcement--pretty innocuous stuff. I suspect that there is additional security inside the buildings in DFC--you likely have to show ID to get past the front door of the building. In fact, I'd be quite surprised if I were wrong about that. Badging people on buses transiting the campus is probably excessive.

So I get the point, and this is a fair test. Where this one should come out is that FPS should let buses through without this sort of ridiculous delay, or the government should make Denver city buses skirt the federal campus. I suspect that, after ultimate resolution, it will result otherwise, and that we will end up a bit more of a police state.

I opened with a snide comment about PapersPlease. That's because it features two cases that are less comparable to the Denver case. One is that of Dudley Hiibel, who turned a domestic dispute with his daughter into a vendetta against the Humboldt County (Nevada) Sheriff's Department into a Supreme Court case on the merits of having to display identification to a police officer investigating a report of a crime--a Supreme Court case that Hiibel lost. The incident was captured on a video that I saw a while back; my first response was that Hiibel was drunk, and my secondary response was that, drunk or not, he was a pretty gosh-darned belligerent fellow*. Both opinions stand to this day, and I defy anyone who sees the video to disagree with me on the matter of Hiibel's belligerence (the situation was not helped by Hiibel's daughter shrieking at the sheriff's deputy who was trying to investigate).

The man's case is not one of which civil libertarians should be proud, and the site does an abysmal and biased job of presenting the facts and merits of the case. That's a shame, because the Denver case seems so much stronger and seems to make so much more sense. Unfortunately, because of the way the site presents the Hiibel case, I can't help but wonder what else I need to know about the Davis case.

The other case that is featured on PapersPlease is that of John Gilmore, who refused to present identification when he wanted to fly on a commercial flight. Do I feel any safer because the low-wage security contractors who prescreen the TSA lines at the airport look at my drivers' license (and everyone else's)? Not so much, no. Do I think it's an unreasonable violation of my civil liberties? Actually, no, I don't. Not at all. Not even close.

Gilmore is described on the site as a philanthropist. That's all well and good, and I applaud his choice to "use his fortune" to "defend the Constitution." I think that this time, he chose a lousy constitutional issue over which to fight (and the photos on the site make clear that he, too, planned this as a constitutional challenge from the git-go). The Ninth Circuit will hear his appeal in December. He will lose, even though one of the most sensible things that conservatives say is that the Ninth Circuit is populated by wackjobs. Not only will he lose, he invites the Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court to develop an even harsher legal climate, one that more substantively and overtly violates the First and Fourth Amendments.

Yes, you with the tattoo on your forearm? Yes, yes, of course you're right, we can't count the number of movies where we've seen Nazis demand peoples' pehppers on trains. Of course you are right that this isn't supposed to be that kind of country. Of course John Gilmore is right, in a narrow and technical constitutional sense, that it should not be required for us to display identification to board airplanes, Lockerbie and 9/11 notwithstanding (identification requirements didn't prevent either of those from happening). And of course, Deborah Davis is really, really right that she shouldn't have to show ze pehppers to ride ze bus. I'll leave aside any of-coursing in the matter of Dudley Hiibel, whose case isn't doing anybody any good, least of all Dudley Hiibel.

But to return to point: Is now really the time to contest the constitutional aspects of these questions? Not so much, no.

*Fuck you, Purple.


Dweeze said...

%^$&#*((#)$) Mann Act!

Sasha said...

Airplane yes. Bus no.

Amtrak is now demanding identification. Um, bus or airplane?

Also, while this is clearly not the time to contest the constitutional aspects, unfortunately they usually need to be contested at the worst times. When fascisti demand my papers the courts are rarely on my side. I have no good answer to this dilemma.

PurpleState said...

Personal insults aside, I found this report to be sufficiently well mannered and polite. Carry on.

Wheeze said...

I've read of this dealybob and I think you've done a fine job outlining it. Much better than the "outrage" I've seen by some folk who say people should just show their ID and be happy about it for the good of the country.