Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is serious

Two travel bloggers in the United States of America were visited by special agents of the Transportation Security Administration Tuesday night and served with subpoenas demanding to know who gave them a Christmas Day TSA memo about changes in airport security procedures.

"YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED BY THE ADMINISTRATOR," the subpoena begins. It demanded a response by December 31.

On December 31, the TSA backed off its deadline and gave one of the writers until January 20 to respond or challenge the subpoena in federal court.

The other writer wasn't given more time because he had already surrendered his laptop computer to the federal agents. Steve Frischling was visited at his Connecticut home for several hours on Tuesday night, and the agents returned for another visit Wednesday morning.

"Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn't cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo," the Associated Press reported.

Under that threat, Steve Frischling gave the federal agents his laptop computer.

Do you understand how serious this is?

The United States government threatened to interfere with a citizen's employment in order to intimidate him.

The subpoena served by the TSA agents was not signed by a judge. "The administrative subpoena — a demand for information issued without a judge's approval — is a civil, not a criminal document. If Elliott refuses to comply, the TSA could ask a judge to hold the writer in contempt," the AP explains.

The distinction between civil and criminal penalties may not have been made clear to Chris Elliot and Steve Frischling when federal agents knocked on the doors of their homes Tuesday night. Chris Elliot called a lawyer, and Steve Frischling was intimidated into surrendering his computer.

Under the law, ill-considered as it may be, the TSA has the authority to issue an administrative subpoena. But nowhere in the law is the TSA authorized to threaten a citizen with the loss of employment.

Which part of the Constitution does this violate most egregiously? The First Amendment right of free speech? The Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures? The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? The guarantee of due process of law and the equal protection of the laws? The Ninth Amendment guarantee that citizens have additional rights even if they're not specifically enumerated in the Constitution? The Tenth Amendment guarantee that the federal government has only the powers delegated to it by the Constitution, and all other powers remain with the states or the people?

Everything in the Constitution prohibits the government from using its power in this way.

In Iraq, where the government owns all the major industries and nearly everybody works for the government, this kind of intimidation is built into the daily lives of Iraqi citizens.

In the United States, it should never, ever happen.

Whoever came up with the idea of threatening Steve Frischling with the loss of his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines should resign or be fired immediately, and so should everyone who signed off on that idea, and so should the agents who delivered that threat.

All year long we've watched as the government threatened auto executives and bank executives and insurance company executives with the loss of their livelihoods if they didn't go along with the administration's directives.

Now the government is coming in the night to knock on the doors of citizens' homes and threaten them with documents that say "YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED."

It is worth mentioning that these writers were subjected to this treatment because they published something. Not because they are suspected of breaking any law. Not because they had information about an imminent threat to anyone's safety.

The United States is not automatically a free country because we shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July.

We have to work at this.

Call your congressman and your senators. Tell them you want the federal government to stop governing through intimidation. Tell them you expect the federal government to protect your freedom, not to trample on it.

U.S. House of Representatives main switchboard: 202-224-3121. Click here to find contact information for your representative.

U.S. Senate main switchboard: 202-225-3121. Click here to find contact information for your senators.

Copyright 2009