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Friday, December 10, 2004

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 America's secret security laws

Want to see the federal government's regulation authorizing airport security personnel to pat you down before boarding a plane? You can't. It's a secret rule, as Helen Chenoweth-Hage, a former Republican congresswoman from Idaho, discovered when she was stopped from flying from Boise to Reno, Nevada, last month. She asked to read the regulation authorizing Transportation Security Administration employees to pat her down at the airport gate:
Chenoweth-Hage was told she couldn't see the directive because the TSA said it was sensitive security information and so could not be publicly released.

"A secret law? I didn't think that happened to Americans," she said. Chenoweth-Hage was given the choice of submitting to the pat-down or not flying. "I was resolved to see the regulation," she said, explaining that she drove to Reno. She has not flown since.

She stressed she's not opposed to airport security and wants to see the government scrutinize passengers for likely terrorists. "But this is such a departure from what our founders set up. They wanted to make sure we didn't have a secret government," she said.

This is the first time I have ever found myself agreeing with that woman.

You are also out of luck if you would you like to read the government regulation that says all passengers must present identification before being allowed on aircraft, or what sort of identification meets the government requirements. Those too are among the several secret regulations issued after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Even the wording of regulations authorizing government employees to carry out the procedures is kept secret.

In a letter to outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last month, the two unions -- the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO -- complained that the restrictions on releasing sensitive security information are "unprecedented restrictions and conditions on the free speech rights" and are so broadly drafted they might even permit searches of the homes of government employees without warrants.

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