Keep quiet or get labelled a terrorist…

BoingBoing brings this piece from the Daily Kos to my attention. It’s a disturbing story of what has happened on a number of occasions to people who annoy flight attendants and end up being labeled as terrorists. These ridiculous rulings have been severely debilitating – in the most extreme case, one woman lost access to her children, and in a Kafkaesque twist was unable to argue the case because she could not reach the custody hearing (in Hawai’i) because she was banned from flying!

These rulings have all occurred through extreme interpretations of the provisions of the US PATRIOT Act. However both this tendency for laws to extend their reach is not unique to the USA, indeed Britain may be far more culpable in this regard but in its mundane, bureaucratic way. Examples include the way that the Harassment Act, designed to protect people from stalkers, has become a tool of corporations against protestors, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which has enabled local authorities to employ intensive surveillance of individuals for such heinous acts as recycling wrongly.

The other issue here is once again, one of responsibilization, the enabling of ordinary people in minor positions of responsibility, or none, to use powers that would previously have been reserved to law enforcement officials or the court system. In the USA, it is flight attendants, whose role has increased markedly as post-9/11 provisions have ratcheted up expectations of passenger behaviour, but in Britain, the New Labour administration has enabled hundreds of bureaucrats to issue fines without any court process through the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanction Act, passed last year.

Basically, there are more and more people who, on a whim and with little or no evidence, can make life extremely difficult if you don’t conform to increasingly tight behavioural norms based on pre-established categories – ‘acting like a terrorist‘ being just one. Some of these norms we may even agree with – no-one likes rudeness – but what is happening is a process of desocialization and the replacement of what used to be matters of civility by narrow protocols.

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

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