From A Concerned Piloton June 20, 2009 at 12:48 pm
This is an email that has apparently been making the rounds in the general aviation community:
As the days go by I find myself more and more apprehensive about the drift of America toward becoming what, not to mince words, can be described as a “police state.” To the average citizen this drift is not yet all that obvious, as except for the now-familiar hassle of taking a commercial airline flight most people can go about their daily activities without interference. The average citizen, therefore, reacts to this police state notion with something ranging from a shrug to an outright “B.S.-what’s he talking about?”
Where the drift is showing up is not yet in the world of the average citizen but on the powerless fringes of society… affecting only those who, in the judgment of the “authorities,” lack the political muscle to fight back. What follows is a perfect example.
A tiny minority of Americans, a minority of which I am a member, are airplane pilots and owners. We own and operate small propeller-driven aircraft, used primarily for personal recreational travel. In other words, for fun. I compare us to RV owner-operators, as these airplanes are equivalent in price range to the RVs and campers so many Americans own and enjoy.
Just like the RVers we airplane operators have historically enjoyed the freedom of travel our machines can provide. In other words, we have been able to get in our airplanes and go somewhere without seeking permission from some government security agency. This is all changing.
Utilizing their seemingly unfettered authority to do anything that strikes their fancy without oversight by anyone, Homeland Security has instituted a requirement that private aircraft operators seek government permission each time we propose to take off if we are planning to depart for Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. We must provide advance detailed information about where, when, and who, including the names, social security numbers, addresses, etc., of all persons who will be in the aircraft. The justification for this, they say, is that we, our spouses, family or friends might be on their mysterious and top secret “No Fly List.” The most significant aspect of this is that Homeland Security has indicated that this is a preliminary step toward their ultimate objective of requiring this data submission prior to EVERY aircraft takeoff in America, regardless of destination. Keep this in mind as we continue.
It is important to understand that this requirement breaks entirely new ground. While ENTERING any country requires formalities, never, ever, has it been necessary to seek and receive government permission to LEAVE America, the “land of the free,” much less to travel within its borders. And never, ever, has it been proposed that such permission is somehow necessary to preserve “national security.” This is a requirement only previously seen in Iron Curtain dictatorships.
Another entirely new and very unsettling aspect of this program has just surfaced in the form of several incidents in which citizens who filed the required information and received official permission to depart the USA have been detained as they were preparing to take off and had their personal aircraft, luggage, wallets, purses, etc., searched by government agents. In one particularly frightening case (Long Beach, California) the airplane was blocked in by multiple vehicles with red lights and sirens and the occupants forced from their plane, hands on their heads, by “screaming” agents from several agencies pointing drawn weapons. In this and all the other incidents, after extensive searches the agents told the citizens it had been just a “routine ramp check” and departed, leaving the shaken travelers to repack their belongings. This activity, totally unrelated to traditional arrival customs checks, also breaks new ground. On the face of it, it seems to clearly violate the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution, as it is not a match for any of the situations Courts have ruled would make this type of warrantless “random stop and search” activity permissible.
Complaints to Homeland Security higher ups about these “routine checks” were answered by spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko with a statement that said, and I accurately paraphrase, “we maintain we have this power and authority, you can expect we will continue to do it whenever and wherever we wish, and there is no requirement that we justify ourselves or explain our reasons.”
This answer itself is, in my opinion, even more frightening than screaming gun-wielding agents. Having an American bureaucrat maintain that their police organization possesses unlimited discretionary authority should give pause even to the most passive among us, as it is exactly what the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) said when anyone complained. Overrides of our Constitutional rights by authorities are supposed to be backed by Supreme Court rulings based on clearly articulated justifications, not on the whim of some unelected bureaucrat.
What does this mean to the average citizen? Yes, you don’t own an airplane and, OK, you really don’t give a [bleep] about how airplane owners are treated. But consider this: Do you own an RV? A car or van? All the “justifications” being used to restrict, control and harass aviation people would apply equally to anyone who travels in RVs, cars, vans, busses, trains, bicycles or what-have-you. And if you think that if unchecked it will stop with airplane owners, well, I fear you are sadly mistaken.
First they came for the pilots, and I said nothing because I wasn’t a pilot…