The security police have been busy this holiday season. Why just yesterday, Special Agent Robert Flaherty turned up on the doorstep of a blogger with what purported to be a subpoena and threatened the blogger with arrest if he did not reveal the source of information posted on the blogger's web site. What kind of knuckle-dragging Nazism is this? A rap at the door, waving a piece of paper, a threat of arrest? All this for publication of information?
Apparently yet another federal security directive was issued immediately after the failed Christmas Day airline attack in Detroit. The directive issued new standards on who to search and how to search them. Apparently two travel bloggers, Steven Frischling and Christopher Elliot, ran stories about the new directive. Neither had big brother's permission to do so.
Elliot, who runs a site called eliot.org posted the directive online. So did Frischling, who writes Flying with the Fish. Within days, the feds came knocking and demanding answers.
The directive instructs airlines and commercial carriers to disseminate the new security rules to "senior management personnel, ground security coordinators, and supervisory security personnel." Other airline security types are to be briefed on the new pat-down procedures, physical inspections and other security measures. But, the memo warns, dissemination to others requires the "prior approval of the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration. Unauthorized dissemination of ... the information ... is prohibited 49 CFR 1520."
I looked up the regulations to see what authority a federal agent with subpoena envy had to wander around threatening to arrest people. Here's the sanction for violation of the administrative regulation: "§ 1520.17 Consequences of unauthorized disclosure of SSI. Violation of this part is grounds for a civil penalty and other enforcement or corrective action by DHS, and appropriate personnel actions for Federal employees. Corrective action may include issuance of an order requiring retrieval of SSI to remedy unauthorized disclosure or an order to cease future unauthorized disclosure."
Translated into plain English: there is no such authority.
This is a deeply troubling case. Special Agent Flaherty may or may not have had a subpoena. If he did, the recipient of the subpoena had a right to move to quash it, or, at a minimum, to be counseled on his legal remedies and responsibilities. Telling the recipient to either bend and spread or be arrested is a form of terror near and dear to totalitarian countries.
I'm told by a caller this evening with personal knowledge that one of the two bloggers gave the feds his computer in response to a knock on the door. The computer has since been returned, damaged. The other blogger may fight the feds on this one. I'm rooting for the fighter.
No, I don't want to get blown to smithereens on an airplane by some suicidal goofball on a mission. But I dread that about as much as being summoned by two-bit thugs earning government paychecks. The ends don't justify the means. Not if the rule of law means anything.