Just over a week ago, the New York Times revealed the shocking news that the Bush administration has been spying on the international communications of suspected terrorists, thus setting off a rippling artificial scandal in the Times private reflecting pool, the increasingly stagnant mainstream media.
Not to be outdone, U.S. News and World Report put on its water wings Friday and tried to create a splash of it own, by reporting that the same renegade Bush administration has been monitoring radiation levels in the public air — without a warrant! Gasp! The power-mad Bushies have done this in a diabolical attempt to get early warning of terrorists preparing to use a nuclear or dirty bomb against an American city. According to the story, this program is fraught with all sorts of subtle privacy issues.
Obviously, such warantless radiation monitoring creates a searing civil rights crisis for the average American, who now must live in fear, knowing that his private high-energy photon emissions, personal beta-particle broadcasts, or even his confidential radionuclide wafting could be subject to detection by the crass and intrusive thugs of the federal government.
I mean, when you don’t have the right to leak radiation into the communal air from a clandestine nuclear bomb, what rights do you have really? Clearly, Bush is Hitler, but worse.
Let us examine what this “far-reaching” and “controversial” program of “questioned” legality entails. A technician in a vehicle drives around Washington, D.C., or another high-risk city, and samples the air with a little device. If the air is not radioactive, he drives somewhere else. Disturbing!
The technician never kicks in a door, or even knocks on one, but he does — from a publicly-accessible area — sample the air. SHOCKING!
All this raises very important privacy issues, such as: What if the air was radioactive for a perfectly harmless reason? Wouldn’t detecting this radiation violate the privacy of the person contaminating the air for this harmless reason? You can see what a slippery slope this becomes really quickly.
Am I kidding here? The article quotes Georgetown University professor David Cole, a “constitutional law expert,” on this legal conundrum: "They don’t need a warrant to drive onto the property — the issue isn’t where they are, but whether they’re using a tactic to intrude on privacy. It seems to me that they are, and that they would need a warrant or probable cause."
Professor Cole did not explain, however, how exactly the right to privacy would cover the emission of harmful, illegal radioactive material into the common air. If ever there were a narrowly focused and non-intrusive search, monitoring the air for radiation would seem to be it. Name for me one legal personal activity for which such monitoring would violate the expectation of privacy, or what harm would likely result.
The reason many searches are regulated by constitutional law is they can impose a significant burden upon the searched, and the search can reveal much more than its target. For example, having a policeman search your body cavities or rifle through your personal possessions is potentially unpleasant and demeaning and could lead to the revelation of personal information unrelated to any legal investigation. But what can measuring roadside radiation levels reveal — other than your possession of materials causing unusual roadside radiation levels?
Radiation monitoring cannot detect whether you look at goat porn on the Internet, belong to the ACLU, voted for Ross Perot, cheat on your spouse, or secretly prefer catsup to ketchup. It cannot read your thoughts or fumble through your underwear drawer. It can do only one thing: determine if you have a significant source of radiation in your possession, which I believe is both illegal and not healthy for children and other living things. And it can do this one limited thing as an unnoticed drive-by service. So you don’t even have to lose any personal time or face social stigma.
But exposing this alleged “invasion of privacy” is what U.S. News has been reduced to in its eager quest for a Bush-bashing warrantless search “scandal.” For political expediency and a desire to ape the New York Times, the 4th Amendment’s guarantee against “unreasonable search and seizure” has now been morphed into a guarantee against any search for Cesium. You know, because high-level gamma emissions might be part of someone’s protected political speech.
The degree to which the mainstream media’s hatred of President Bush has pushed it into a state of logical incoherence is simply amazing. But even more amazing is that this incoherence is not lessened even by the basic human desire to protect innocent people’s lives. “Exposing” the government’s radiation monitoring program in such detail will not help the public fend off any real assault on our liberties. Neither does it contribute to any significant political debate. It won’t even harm Bush politically. All it does is inform our terrorist enemies what measures we have taken to catch them before they can harm us, and allow them to attempt more effective countermeasures.