Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Since when did the 9th Circuit clue in?

Considering I don't live on the West Coast, I hear about the 9th Circuit of Appeal's court a lot. The 9th circuit has traditionally been a hotbed of Liberal Democrat activity, with a long history of making laws, rather than simply interpreting law. A quick search of for 9th Circuit gives a quick idea of how often the 9th Circuit makes the news.

So, I find it a bit startling to read that the 9th Circuit seems to be making some good decisions, one example being a ruling in favor of Pro-Life license plates, another being a positive ruling over the Christian Bible being used by Jury's, and yet another positive ruling on the 10 Commandments. Then I catch on the Register that the 9th Circuit of Appeals has opened up the floodgates for massive class-action lawsuit on Microsoft for the "Vista Capable" promotion.

These events are extremely surprising for a court system that was supposed to be made up of the Bad Guys. The 9th Circuit is part of the court system where a Federal Judge halted oil drilling off the coast of California in lieu of an unlimited multi-year Wildlife Study. The list of bone-headed decisions to come out of the California courts is longer than my arm if printed on 8''x11'' paper with 8pt font and no margins.

The end result is that I'm a little mixed on one of their latest rulings, which The Register reported on. Essentially, the 9th Circuit has allowed Customs agents to search laptops by judging laptops to be personal property, and there-for liable to be searched alongside stuff like your pants and shaving cream.

On one hand, I find myself in favor of the ruling. Sometimes when going through the air-port I was wishing that some security officer would make me turn my laptops on, just so I could have a reasonable excuse to show off Linux and explain why using Windows was bad. On the other hand, I'm not really sure that I agree with the idea that Federal agents can simply open up my laptop and start poking around.

It's almost like a decision made by Atlanta some months back. Atlanta's city governmenbt decided to try and cleanup the downtown area by authorizing police to detain people dressed in a certain manner. Nice idea, Atlanta is a beautiful city, but the type of person who wanders the streets downtown is, unnerving to say the least. So speaking for myself, I applauded the desire of Atlanta to clean up their city. On the other hand, the last thing any city needs is real fashion police. The cops, laywers, wardens, and court system might have ample proof that somebody dressed in a certain way means trouble... But I'm not comfortable with the idea of government having that much authority.

The problems themselves are sort of complex to work out, and there are not easy solutions to problems like gangs or people bringing in Child-porn on un-searched laptops.

The quick-shot hip answer I would have is to move the job of searching off to a private party.

To use the example I came up with for Atlanta's Image problem... I don't want the city itself to mandate what people can or cannot wear. I don't want the city to mandate detaining people for wearing certain items of clothing... well... unless it's a nazi swastika on a black armband... then detain away...

While I don't want the city to have that power, I do want the private business owners to have that power. It's entirely possible, and legal, for a business to decline to serve a person based on how they are dressed or look. It's entirely possible for a store owner, manager, or employee to decline service to anybody they like. If Atlanta want's to clean up the downtown area? Simply stop servicing people who are wearing certain types of clothing.

In the same manner, while I don't want Federal agents to have the authority to search my laptop at any time they want... the Airlines themselves could easily write into their terms of service for flight that they CAN search any equipment brought on board the aircraft... or that if you fly with a particular airline, you waive your right to certain privacies, which could include allowing Federal Agents to search your electronic equipment.

The onus of security then is moved to the airline itself, into the private sector, while the government sector is still available for the actual enforcement.

Again, that's just my hip shot reaction to how such a matter could be dealt with, so whether or not it's possible or feasible... I just don't know.

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