What the Security State Hath Wrought

A citizen of a Western European country, who works in the United States for a fast-growing Internet startup company, writes today:

In many of your TSA related post, a key theme is the illusion of security through ineffective and "invasive" means. Seems like there is more of this going on in the broader "security" world.

-A young British couple was sent back from the US after some ill-advised but innocuous tweets;

-Muslim man gets arrested for using term "blow away the competition" in a text message

It's one thing to have Google and Facebook data mine your life to make money for themselves. It's another thing if innocent communication gets you in trouble with a humorless bureaucracy without adequate recourse.

The fact that as a green card holder I seriously hesitated before hitting "send" on this message means something I think.

The stories my correspondent links to are quietly incredible. About the latter episode, which took place in Quebec, today's news story describes what happened to a telecom salesman named Saad Allami:

On Jan. 21, 2011, Allami sent a text message to colleagues urging them to "blow away" the competition at a trade show in New York City.

According to [a lawsuit for damages he has filed], he was arrested without warning by police three days later and detained for over a day while his house was searched. During his detention, a team of police officers allegedly conducted an "intrusive" four-hour search.

"The whole time, the officers kept repeating to the plaintiff's wife that her husband was a terrorist," the filing reads.

The British couple, shown below in a photo via ABC, got in trouble for a slangy use of the word "destroy" in a Tweet. The ABC account says:

swns_twitter_terrorists_nt_120130_wg.jpg

"Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America," one of the tweets read. Bryan told The Sun [in England] that in this context "destroy" just meant party.

"The Homeland Security agents were treating me like some kind of terrorist. I kept saying they had got the wrong meaning from my tweet but they just told me 'You've really f***ed up with that tweet, boy'," Bryan told The Sun.

There are a lot more details in The Sun's account -- and with all allowances made for the imaginative potential of UK tabloids, it is worth a look.

Yes, we need to be "safe." It is worth noting what we are giving up in the name of safety. Think about the last line in the note from my European friend.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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