Getting cozy with big brother

Americans may exchange civil liberties for safety

Most Americans seem willing to trade more security for their own freedom in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. That's indisputable.

But if expanding police powers to root out terrorists erodes civil liberties, will the terrorists win a partial victory? Will they succeed at making us less American?

The changes will arrive most swiftly in airports and airliners. The days of walking to the gate with a carry-on and an e-ticket are gone. You'd also better be prepared to have your bags searched — I mean, really searched — and your ID checked repeatedly.

Passengers who made it through the lines of police and unusually aware security guards in Hartsfield last weekend figured that out. CL's news editor, on his way back to Atlanta Sunday, reports that security guards required him to take a swig from his water bottle to ensure that he wasn't trying to sneak a dangerous liquid on board.

All this eventually may mean armed marshals on every flight or firearms for the pilots. It certainly will mean higher fares.

One terrorism expert — Beau Grosscup at California State University at Chico — even suggests the feds take over airport security, because private companies cut corners in search of higher profits. That's why we've got non-union, minimum-wage employees working as security at airports and supposedly protecting us from terrorists.

Argenbright Security, which is based in Atlanta, already has drawn negative publicity since the Sept. 11 attack. The company provides security at two of the airports, Washington-Dulles and Newark, from which the hijacked flights originated.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that Argenbright has paid more than a million dollars in federal fines for hiring untrained workers, some of whom had criminal records. Argenbright also provides security at Hartsfield International Airport, where its staff had a 375 percent turnover rate between May 1998 and April 1999, according to Congress' General Accounting Office.

Grosscup, author of The Newest Explosions of Terrorism, argues that the federal government at least ought to regulate airport security — and that private companies shouldn't be making safety decisions.

Of course, aviation is the most obvious target for tighter security; last week, it proved itself a weak link in the safety chain. But thornier choices about everyday, personal freedoms will be made in a time of near-hysteria, and probably won't face much opposition until after the residue of the attacks wear off.

More domestic spying, border restrictions, national ID cards, fingerprinting and a wider latitude for law enforcement when it comes to search and seizure all have been publicly discussed since the attacks.

Americans almost certainly will be asked to trade less privacy on the telephone and the Internet for more security. The campaign to dismember the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations will include monitoring messages among radical groups (some of which are suspected of having cells in the United States), as well as such "cyberwarfare as planting false information on the Internet.

Winn Schwartau, an author of several books on information security, says we can anticipate legislation that would allow more eavesdropping. He's been asked since the attack to help craft bills that would beef up Internet and airport security.

Law enforcement agencies aren't necessarily waiting for legislation. The FBI already has approached a number of e-mail and Internet service providers to install Carnivore — a spy system that allows the feds to monitor electronic communications — to help it hunt for messages sent between the Sept. 11 hijackers and their ground support network.

Dan Greenfield, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based EarthLink Inc., which is the country's third-largest ISP, says the FBI approached his company Sept. 11, but the system hasn't been installed. The company, in the past a vocal opponent of Carnivore, is cooperating with investigators, but still doesn't plan to install the spy system.

The need to feel safe is understandable. But Lloyd Dumas, a professor of political economy at the University of Texas at Dallas, says he hopes the American people don't allow the government to trade too many civil liberties for security measures. That would compound the damage that's already been done by the terrorists, Dumas says, because the erosion of civil liberties diminishes the meaning of being a U.S. citizen.

But a reality shift took place last week: Freedoms that seemed fundamentally American before Sept. 11 are freedoms many Americans may see today as a luxury.

One touchstone for liberty is political dissent. Grosscup reports that some students in his California State University class told him to get out of the country after he merely suggested that the attacks might spark some sober re-assessment of America's foreign policy.

Anti-globalization groups, which have challenged some of the fundamental assumptions of U.S. foreign policy since the late 1990s, are nervous they won't be able to voice opposition the way they did before the attacks. If they do, they'll be ignored or criticized for being unpatriotic just when everyone from politicians to television personalities is calling for unity.

Kevin Danaher, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Global Exchange admits that the fast-approaching, twice-yearly board meeting for his anti-globalization group will be different. "We're going to come together and say, 'It's a changed world,' he says.

If the World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington do indeed take place at the end of September as scheduled — a matter that's under discussion — Danaher says the protests, which at one time were supposed to draw nearly 100,000 people to "will be quiet, respectful and religious.??