Mac Slavo
April 5, 2010

Senator Joe Lieberman, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, says that he is worried about the threat of domestic terrorism on public transportation systems:

“Our government is working with state and local officials … both in ways that are visible and ways that are not visible, to raise our defenses on trains and subways and buses. But … non-aviation is the vulnerable part of our transportation system and we, frankly, need to give it more than we’re giving it now to protect the American people. I worry about this,” Lieberman said.

We’ve already seen and experienced the effects of government intervention at airports, with many Americans opting out of flying altogether in order to avoid the hassles of TSA full body scans and gestapo-like interrogations. Whether the the security procedures at airports have made us safer is an oft debated topic, with those who oppose the stringent screening policies pointing to the recent Christmas Day bombing plot and senseless acts of humiliation and demoralization regularly carried out by TSA employees as failures of the current system.

In the near future the government is likely going to begin considering similar “security measures” for all public transportation systems, as Senator Lieberman suggested. If history is any guide, mustering support in Congress for new public security laws should not be very difficult to accomplish. In an environment where the powers that be have created an air of fear around just about everything from health care to financial reform, it is simply a matter of telling the right story to the American public and Congress. For those of our representatives who are ready to pull the trigger on more draconian control and surveillance, an attack anywhere within the borders of the United States, similar to what happened in Moscow recently, would be enough to institute public transportation security and surveillance laws within a matter of days if such an event were to occur.

The balance between freedom and security has been tilting, with the weight of the scales tipping towards restrictive security controls since September 11, 2001. After the largest criminal attack ever committed in the United States, we saw sweeping legislation in the form of Patriot Act, which, in effect, suspended many constitutional protections for anyone suspected of being a threat.

The so-called no fly list(s), maintained by government agencies like TSA, CIA and FBI, also result from the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the names on the various lists have grown from just a few thousands suspected terrorists in 2001 to millions of people, including American citizens, today.

One would venture to guess that any such security legislation that may be instituted to protect public transportation systems like buses, trains and subways would follow similar policies. Such policies would be impossible to implement at this time, because unlike air travel, an individual boarding a bus or subway is not required to present identification. The type of legislation Sen. Lieberman or his colleagues may propose would most likely take this into consideration, and any security measures being implemented would almost certainly require identification prior to boarding any public transportation vehicle.

Not possible you say, because public transportation would come to a standstill if everyone boarding had to present I.D.?

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t
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Consider the possibility of the national ID card, which has been proposed as a way to monitor immigration and employment. Like the social security number, originally introduced to provide benefits for seniors, a national ID card which embeds a passive RFID chip, could be quickly converted and used for other purposes, such as public transportation checkpoints, and with the spread of wireless technology, could potentially allow for on-demand identification of all passengers boarding public buses or trains.

Within seconds, the passenger could be cross-checked with what would undoubtedly be deemed a no ride list.

Ask most Americans, and they will probably agree that such a system would be beneficial to fighting terrorism. But how far are they willing to allow their government to go?

It is not out of the question to one day see a 21st century version of Your Papers Please, where the national ID card is tied directly into a system that utilizes behavioral technologies to chart one’s daily travel patterns, and any deviations may also be flagged as suspect, or perhaps, a travel pattern of interest, immediately alerting local security personnel who would subsequently question passengers, much like the TSA does at airports today, as to why the person has gone off course or decided to skip work that particular day and take a trip to another city.

With airport security hassles already causing many Americans to refrain from flying, one could suggest that similar measures on trains, buses and subways would turn yet more Americans away from public travel, with most believing that automobile travel is less intrusive.

The advent of toll tags, on-board GPS systems, and street corner camera monitoring systems would suggest otherwise. It is now possible to track every American, regardless of the vehicle, in real-time, across almost the entire country. With the processing power of computers doubling every few years, it is only a matter of time before all of the technology implemented for homeland security is integrated across the entire grid, with artificially intelligent software processing every bit of travel information from across the country, looking for pattern divergences. Couple this with real-time processing, archiving and cross referencing of consumer data, and you have a system that is capable of predicting, in some capacity and decent level of accuracy, what a person is doing and what route they will take to get their.

Did you just use a credit card to purchase a birthday card at the Hallmark Store? An AI computer network would easily be able to process, using social network databases, who the card was purchased for and what route you will take to get to their birthday party.

Are Americans prepared for and willing to accept such intrusions into their lives when traveling? Some would say no, that Americans will value their freedom over security.

But the anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. The State of Texas, for example, regularly implements checkpoints along main highways. Law enforcement argues that these checkpoints are necessary to prevent the transportation of drugs within the State, but it is easy to see how such drug monitoring surveillance zones could easily be used for a variety of other purposes, namely to harass and strike fear into Americans.

Where are you coming from? Where are you headed? What’s the purpose of your trip? How long will you be gone?

How comfortable do you really feel about answering such questions, and are you willing to become a traveler-of-interest if you fail to cooperate with authorities as they pry into your personal life?

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