Communion Of Dreams


This is a remarkably bad idea.

I notice that I’ve been writing a fair amount on civil liberties and the encroachment on them by the government thanks to the “War on Terror”. I’m not really that obsessed with this stuff, but I just keep stumbling across things which should make anyone concerned.

The latest is an item I saw on Yahoo! this morning, from the AP:

AP: Firefighters help in war on terror

WASHINGTON – Firefighters in major cities are being trained to take on a new role as lookouts for terrorism, raising concerns of eroding their standing as American icons and infringing on people’s privacy.

Unlike police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel don’t need warrants to access hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings each year, putting them in a position to spot behavior that could indicate terrorist activity or planning.

You know, at first glance this doesn’t seem that unreasonable, and I’m sure that is what the government is counting on as the word of it spreads to the public. Sure, if some firemen happen to stumble across a big pile of bombs in the basement of someone’s apartment, it would be reasonable for them to report it. What’s the big deal?

Well, think a little more about it, and see what else is in the news report:

When going to private residences, for example, they are told to be alert for a person who is hostile, uncooperative or expressing hate or discontent with the United States; unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress.

Be alert for someone who is hostile? Uncooperative? Expressing hate or discontent?

That is dangerously close to thought-policing. If the simple act of expressing discontent (or being perceived as doing so) with the government or any of its agents is enough to get you reported to Homeland Security (which is what the firefighters are being trained to do), then we have slipped past simple awareness to making judgement calls as to what is appropriate political behaviour.

And think about how this might be received: do you seriously want any community or individuals who *might* be at-odds with the political leadership of the state, local, or federal government to be reluctant to report a fire, for fear that some literature they have sitting on a desk could be perceived as necessitating a call to Homeland Security? Isn’t that a good way for a fire to get hold, perhaps destroying whole apartment blocks or close-together urban neighborhoods?

Or put another way, would you want your neighbor, who maybe does a little pot on the weekends, to be afraid to call 9-11 for you when you’re having a heart attack, because he fears that the EMS team might notice that he’s a little red-eyed when they show up? Or have your roommate, who likes to go target shooting and is set up to do his own reloading, not want to call when you think you’ve accidentally swallowed some poison, since the EMS team might see his guns and gunpowder?

This undermines our trust in the neutral agency of our emergency-response personnel, and so makes us all less safe in the long run. The government has the authority to serve us when in need, not spy on us when it wants. If they want to conduct police actions, they should have to meet the necessary legal requirements to do so, and not try to pull some end-around trick like this.

*Sigh* A reminder that I need to renew my ACLU membership.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Added: Bruce Schneier reminded me of this post of his touching on the same topic earlier this month. Definitely read it.

JD.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Well, think a little more about it, and see what else is in the news report:

When going to private residences, for example, they are told to be alert for a person who is hostile, uncooperative or expressing hate or discontent with the United States; unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress.

Be alert for someone who is hostile? Uncooperative? Expressing hate or discontent?

This does sound like the beginnings of a Nightwatch pogrom.

Comment by richg

“You did the right thing, Zack.”

😉

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams




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