Sunday, December 25, 2005

Disturbing? Not

First of all, Merry Christmas! Blogging from relatives', where the computer works just fine even if it is a Windoze box.

Secondly, I wanted to get on the record on this one quickly for reasons of my own -- if I don't bend over backward to give the government benefit of doubt or credit where credit is due ASAP, then it's reasonable to assume that my usual anti-government stuff is just knee-jerkism.

So, some people find FBI radiation monitoring in the vicinity of mosques and such "disturbing." I don't. Here's why:

- It's reasonable to categorize a communications channel -- owned or rented by those using it to send messages -- as private property which a search of would require a warrant for. The radiation monitoring, by all accounts, has taken place exclusively on "public" property, and moreover of the air on that "public" property. I've seen a lot of claims as to the expectation of privacy on "public" property, but none that extend so far as a claim that nuclear particles in "public" atmosphere have "privacy rights" with respect to others finding out what kinds of particles are there and in what quantity (as opposed to analyzing constructed chains of such particles for data content).

- If nuclear weapons material is stored on or adjacent to some of that "public" property, it's highly unlikely that the emissions of alpha particles and such produced by that material are intended for use as message vectors to other parties or for any other "private" purpose. And even in the extremely bizarre scenario under which they might be, there's never been any reasonable expectation that the transmission of such particles across "public" airspace constitutes a proprietary channel (unlike, say, satellite transmissions, etc.).

- Monitoring for radiation on "public" property -- including said property near mosques, Islamic centers, the homes of Islamic activists, etc. -- reveals nothing about those places or the people who own or frequent them except whether or not radioactive materials are present in the locale. It doesn't tell the FBI which imam is screwing around on his wife or which congregation member sneaks a ham sandwich in for lunch once a week, or even which -- if any -- people in the area might be affiliated with al Qaeda, sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, or anything else. All it tells the FBI is "there's radiation present in this public space from a nearby source." Thus there is absolutely no case to be made that any information is being "seized" which the FBI is not entitled to gather (if we grant that the FBI is entitled to investigate threats of violence on "public" property -- something I'm willing to stipulate to within the narrow grounds of the assumed -- although not by me -- legitimacy of the state and of the FBI per se).

This is not disturbing. As a matter of fact, I'd be disturbed if it wasn't happening. I've assumed since I was a kid that one advance countermeasure against nuclear terrorism involved teams in major cities trucking around monitoring radiation levels and investigating when they found evidence indicative of the presence of nuclear weapons material. I'd be surprised if this has only been happening for four years. It's a common-sense, non-intrusive tactic. To the extent that it has any constitutional implications, they are not individual rights/4th Amendment implications, but higher-level "what is the role of the state" ones which, although I disagree with the settlement, are fairly settled.

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