What a short, strange trip it was

A former Grateful Dead songwriter who was ejected from a plane in 2003 after airport officials found drugs and paraphernalia in his luggage has become the latest litigant to seek information about the Transportation Security Administration’s secret policies on screening airline passengers, The Washington Post reports.

John Perry Barlow, who was removed from the plane before takeoff, is claiming that the marijuana and hallucinogenics taken from his bag cannot be admitted as evidence against him because they were seized illegally by ariport personnel at San Francisco International Airport. In his case, as in others, the TSA is refusing to reveal anything about its practices so as not to compromise “security sensitive information.”

Barlow, who is active in the Electronic Freedom Foundation and in other cyberspace freedom and privacy issues as well, blogs about this experience 

I suppose that, for legal reasons, I wanted to avoid any apparent admission of guilt, and only now do I realize that it’s possible to tell this tale without making one. This is because, in most cases – and this is almost certainly one of them – contraband that is illegally discovered does not legally exist. If that seems a technicality to you, you may want to re-read the 4th Amendment.

What they found in the bottom of that bottle was not an incidental discovery during the course of a mandated search for something else. They had dug deep and purposefully. This was no joint in the ashtray casually spotted by the officer while writing a speeding ticket. A closer analogy would be the joint discovered on the floorboards of your car after the officer removed its carpeting while writing a speeding ticket.

Now the more authoritarian among you might say that if these searches reveal other, non-terror-related, criminal activity, then so much the better. The 4th Amendment should provide no sanctuary for the guilty, whatever their crimes. But randomly searching people’s homes against the possibility that someone might have a bio-warfare lab in his basement would reveal a lot of criminal activity. And it is certainly true that such searches would reduce the possibility of anthrax attacks and enhance public safety. Still, I doubt you’re ready to go there.

His absurdly high bail of $250,000 was thankfully paid by John Gilmore of EFF who is also footing the legal bills.

John is one of the co-founders of EFF and is, in addition, the peskiest and most obdurate defender of the Constitution I know. Accompanied by journalist Ann Harrison, John came down and went my bail in cash, though that transaction very nearly turned south when he would not produce a government-issued ID for the deputy at the desk. As a matter of characteristically flinty principle, he doesn’t carry one. In fact, there is no legal requirement that someone posting bail identify himself. Eventually, the deputy grudgingly accepted John’s cash while letting him keep his official anonymity, noting in his log that the bail was posted by an unknown person and therefore constituted suspicious activity.

He’s not plea-bargaining, instead he is courageously fghting this. He deserves our support.

On September 11, 2001 I sent out a spam to my mailing list in which I warned that “the control freaks will be dining out on this day for the rest of our lives.”

I mean to deny them at least one small course in that terrible meal.