Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Grounded Millionaire

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tells the story of John Gilmore, who is effectively under regional arrest. Believe it or not, it all started with a rather routine visit to the Oakland Airport:

On July 4, 2002, John Gilmore strolled to the Southwest Airlines counter at Oakland Airport and presented his ticket.

The gate agent asked for his ID.

Gilmore asked her why.

It is the law, she said.

Gilmore asked to see the law.

Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has. The regulation that mandates ID at airports is "Sensitive Security Information." The law, as it turns out, is unavailable for inspection.

What started out as a weekend trip to Washington became a crawl through the courts in search of an answer to Gilmore's question: Why?

Apparently, asking "Why?" in post-9/11 America is a pretty tricky business. And Gilmore's simple question has started an argument that reaches "deep into the tug-of-war between private rights and public safety, and play havoc with the Department of Homeland Security." Gilmore isn't just being flippant, he is earnestly worried about the fine line between safety and tyranny:
"Are they just basically saying we just can't travel without identity papers? If that's true, then I'd rather see us go through a real debate that says we want to introduce required identity papers in our society rather than trying to legislate it through the back door through regulations that say there's not any other way to get around," Gilmore said. "Basically what they want is a show of obedience."
Gilmore's disobedience has grounded him. He cannot fly inside the U.S., ride Amtrak, rent a room at most major hotels ... or even get into the courthouse for his own case (Gilmore vs. Ashcroft). The rest of the article is a pretty in-depth profile on John Gilmore, who estimates his own net worth to be $30 million, and who was an early employee at Sun (hired to write their first code). Gilmore is also heavily involved in the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), working for rights in the information age. [via Boing-Boing]

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