> Some days its a bad hair day, other days you see the suite of Western
> values since the Enlightenment quashed in an instant by a single, soulless,
> civil servant. Here's what happened to me last Friday when I arrived in
> London from Paris on the channel tunnel train:
> As I walked through UK immigration, two guys pulled me aside, flashed
> badges, and said: "UK Customs. Come with us." They walked me behind a wall
> where they handed me off to one of a fleet of waiting agents.
> A customs officer told me to lay my computer bag on the table, and
> inspected my ticket and passport. After learning I was a reporter, she
> demanded to see my press card (issued by the French Ministry of Foreign
> Affairs), and asked about where I was going in London, why, and for how
> "Do you know there are things that are illegal to bring into the UK?" she
> "Uh, yeah.... There are *many* things that are illegal to bring across
> borders -- do you have in mind any thing in particular?," I said.
> "Illegal drugs, fire arms, bomb making materials, lewd and obscene
> pornographic material...."
> I felt a rush of relief. I was late and now was assured I could get on with
> my journey. "I am carrying none of that," I replied, staring directly at
> her, with a tone of earnest seriousness.
> "Is that a computer in your bag?"
> "Does it have Internet on in?"
> Here, I confess, I really didn't know how to answer. What does one say to a
> question like that?? I was struck dumb. "I use the computer to access the
> Internet, yes," I said, rather proud of myself for my accuracy.
> "Is there any pornography on it?" she said, stoically.
> Here, I figured out what's going on. But I'm mentally paralyzed from all
> the synapses sparkling all at once in my head: Does she not understand that
> Internet content is distributed around the world? That I'm just dialing a
> local number, be it in France or the UK, and that whether I cross a border
> is moot to what I'm able to access?
> "There is no pornography stored on the hard drive," I stated.
> "Do you mind if I check." she says rather than asks, and begins to take the
> computer out of the bag. "I'm just going to hook it up over there and scan
> the hard drive..." she continues.
> And then her face turns dour. "Oh! It's an Apple," she says, dejectedly.
> "Our scanner doesn't work on Apples."
> At this point, it's all a little bit too much, too fast, for me to handle.
> >From seeing my personal privacy ripped out from under me with a
> computer-enema to an immediate about-face and witnessing my oppressors
> flounder in the pap of their own incompetence was just too much to bear.
> Then, of course, I sort of relished the irony of it all. I swung into
> "Oh. Oh well," I said and began packing up. "Why not?"
> "I dunno -- it just doesn't," she said.
> "Is this a common thing that you do? Scan PCs?"
> "It happens quite often," she said. (Note: I wrote this entire dialogue
> immediately after the incident, but that particular quote I wrote the
> moment we parted, to have it exactly right.)
> "Do you catch a lot?"
> "Sometimes," she says, cautiously.
> What's the fine? The penalty?" I asked.
> She started to become uncomfortable and tried to move me along. "It
> depends. Every case is different. It depends what they have."
> "What about if I had encryption -- do you check for that too?" I said,
> disdaining the risk that she might want to check the computer "by hand"
> since I'd mentioned the dreaded C-word....
> "Huh?! I don't know about that...."
> "You don't know what cryptography is?" I asked.
> "No. Thank you, you can go now," she said.
> And thus ended my experience with inspector "K. PARE_," whose name tag was
> partially torn at the final one or two letters of her last name.
> Of course I was burning up. Lots of thoughts raced through me.
> For example, would I have really let her inspect my hard drive, even
> knowing I was "innocent." That, of course, was entirely irrelevant to me --
> it's about a principle. I thought of my editor -- or ex-editor -- if I
> didn't make the day-long meeting. And I immediately thought of John
> Gilmore, and how much I respected him when he refused to board a flight a
> few years ago when the airline demanded he present a form of
> identification. Had I acquiesced to their mental thuggery?
> As soon as I realized I was "safe" from being scanned, I was tempted to
> pull out my notepad, go into reporter-mode, and make a small scene getting
> names and superiors and formal writs of whatever.... but suspected it would
> only get me locked in a room for a full day.
> Then I thought of how, despite in their kafakain zeal to abuse my privacy,
> they couldn't even get that right. Not only did they not have a clue what
> the Internet is, they confirmed their ignorance by not even being able to
> digitally pat me down. Insult to injury! It brought back something John
> Perry Barlow once told me about why he doesn't fear US intelligence
> agencies. "I've seen them from the inside," he said (as I recall), "they
> will suffer under the weight of their own ineptitude."
> What's at the heart of this is "thought crime"; and scanning one's computer
> is paramount to search and seizure of one's intellectual activity. What if
> they found subversive literature about the proper role of government
> authority in civil society? Would that have gotten me busted? And do they
> store what they scan? Are business executives with marketing plans willing
> to have their data inspected under the umbrella of public safety from porn?
> Just the night before I read in the memoirs of William Shirer, who wrote
> The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, about how he was blacklisted for a
> decade after his name was cited in Red Currents, a magazine that destroyed
> hundreds of careers during the McCarthy era. He was powerless to defend
> I see parallels: We are approaching the point were we are incapable of
> reasonable discourse on Internet content. Refuse to boot up for inspection
> means you've got something to hide. Defend civil liberties of the accused
> means you condone guilty acts. Question the nature of the censorious
> policies in the first place means you are filthy, and as unhealthy as the
> wily-eyed porn devourer.... State the obvious: That a large part of the
> drive for Net content regulation is driven by hucksters seeking
> recognition, and that it is taken to idiotic extremes by a mass movement of
> simpletons ignorant of the history of hysteria in the US, and, well, you're
> just a typical lawless cyberlibertian.
> Finally, it dawned in me. This wasn't an aberration at all, but part of a
> much deeper trend. It's a British thing, really.
> "As might be supposed I have not had the time, not may I add the
> inclination to read through this book," wrote Sir Archibald Bodkin, the
> director of public prosecutions, on 29 December 1922. "I have, however,
> read pages 690 to 732 ... written as they are, as it composed by a more or
> less illiterate vulgar woman ... there is a great deal of unmitigated filth
> and obscenity."
> And so James Joyce's Ulysses was banned in Britain for 15 years.
> Interesting, that. The policy was made by a chap who didn't actually read
> the work he felt justified to prohibit others from reading. Wonder if the
> fellows who implemented Britain's scan-for-skin policy actually use the Net
> Kenneth Neil Cukier <email@example.com>
> Singapore, 11 August 1998
Most catastrophes occurr from a long series of small unrelated, yet uncontrollable failures.
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