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Monday, November 28, 2005

Show me your papers!

As a History Channel addict and a bit of a nut for films about WWII, I have to admit that the title of today's post has the ability to elicit a dual response when I hear or read it, depending on who is doing the asking and who is being asked.

On the one hand, 'show me your papers' is the scary phrase that the Nazi officials invariably bark when they confront members of the resistance... Jews fleeing for the border...  or anyone else I consider to be a 'good guy'.  'Show me your papers' in this context was usually the prelude to arrest or worse.

On the other hand, this phrase was also used by the 'good guys' when trying to apprehend Axis spies in Great Britain or the US.  In this scenario, 'show me your papers' meant that a wolf was potentially hiding amongst the sheep and was about to be identified... and society would soon be the better/safer for the request.

I have mentioned in the past that I am totally OK with Israel having a standardized national identity card and a law requiring everyone above age 16 to carry one (and present it on demand).  I have also made no secret of the fact that I completely understand how Israel's strained security resources are put to the best possible use through an open policy of profiling.

Our security system is far from perfect in its fairness or success, but in wartime few can argue the need to be able to quickly sort the wolves from the sheep.  The question of who are the wolves and who are the sheep is obviously a subjective one.

ISM activists who work long hours to be able to enable freedom of movement and improved travel conditions for the Arab population of the west bank clearly see the Palestinians as wearing the white hats, and have cast the Israelis as the ones wearing the coal scuttle helmets and jack boots.  However, they acknowledge no connection between the removal of checkpoints and roadblocks and the nearly immediate increase in terror attacks that results from the easing of these restrictions.

But by the same token, I saw first hand how the sweeping authority to stop and detain nearly anyone for security reasons was used (abused) by the Israeli government to suppress dissent and restrict the freedom of movement of those who opposed the disengagement from Gaza.

Clearly I am not opposed to allowing 'the authorities' the power to quickly identify and counter security threats.  But it became clear to me during the Gaza evacuation that certain safeguards were absent from these policies if a kippah or orange car-flag provided ample cause for the police to stop and detain people engaged in lawful travel and speech and demonstrations.

I started down this train of thought because of a thought provoking web site that discusses the pending criminal case of a Denver woman who was arrested on a public bus for refusing to present I.D. to a federal officer upon demand.

It seems that the public bus she takes to work each day goes through a complex of federal buildings and facilities and therefore the passengers come under increased scrutiny when the bus enters the area.

Despite my position on such issues in Israel, I have a problem with a few aspects of this case:

1.  The US currently has no uniform ID card that one can assume will positively identify anyone, nor is there a law requiring law-abiding citizens to identify themselves upon demand. 

2.  There is no US law that requires everyone to carry ID at all times (even non-standard ID such as a driver's license or a school ID).

3.  The bus on which this woman was riding was part of the public transportation system and did not provide access to any of the buildings or facilities in the federal complex... it only traveled along a route through the complex. One would assume that anyone wishing to enter a building in the complex would be subject to a formal ID check and a search.

4.  The federal officers in the case seem to have claimed for themselves a level of authority that is not based on law, but which would appear to make anyone who resisted it seem at best unpatriotic... and at worst guilty of hiding something. 

5.  The constitutional protections against illegal search is designed to force the authorities to sustain the entire burden of proof... not  to transfer that burden to anyone who wants to combat the assumption of guilt or subversive intent.

Going back to my original cinematic examples of how one might perceive the permissibility of demanding identity papers to be directly tied to whether one viewed the asker or the askee to be the embattled party (the good guy)... I can't help wondering why the US government seems intent upon conferring such sweeping powers upon 'the authorities' without first creating an organized legal framework for their application.

If the US feels that it needs addition, perhaps temporary, powers to identify those who walk the streets, it seems to me that they need to introduce legislation for a standardized ID card and a requirement for all adults to carry one.  At the same time, if citizens decide to ratify such a burdensome practice, it would seem only fair that non-citizens should be required to carry a passport from their country of origin since this is a standard document recognized as official ID under a host of international conventions.

Here in Israel we certainly need to better define and perfect the application of the existing laws surrounding the police and army's ability to demand identity and detain security suspects.  This 'adjustment' may ease the daily routine of the average Palestinian while simultaneously making it incrementally harder for the authorities to spot the bad guys.  But the right to identify and detain  individuals is a power that is conferred by the rule of law, not taken by those who are tasked with enforcing law.

Whether in the US or Israel, there is a constant struggle between security and civil liberties, but it is not a tug-of-war between the government and the police/army.  It is a struggle that the government - as the embodiment of the people's will and needs - must continually have with itself.  And the ongoing results of that struggle must always manifest themselves in laws that are both transparent and universally enforced.

Or, as I often say... I could be totally full of sh*t and need to get down off of my soapbox.

Posted by David Bogner on November 28, 2005 | Permalink

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When you say WWII movies did you mean documentaries or fiction?

Posted by: Jeru Guru | Nov 28, 2005 11:29:27 AM

I once talked to Dr. Elie Krakowski (an Orthodox Jew who was Assistant to the US Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan) back in the early 1990s, and asked him about a national ID card. He thought that in the war against terrorism it was critical, but America would never go for it. I would guess the need is even greater now...

And as far as Israel is concerned, we're in for a change as well. In the next couple of years, we're going to be switching from the old fashioned teudat zehut with a hi-tech smart card.

And we already allow biometric (handprint) scans at the airport. So maybe the slogan "show me your papers" will be anachronistic in Israel before the US.

Posted by: Dave | Nov 28, 2005 11:36:19 AM

No, you're not totally full of sh*t... but you do seem comfortable up on that soapbox. I am soo swamped at work that I can't devote the time I would like to responding, but I will attempt to in the next few days, as there is much to comment on!

Posted by: nrg | Nov 28, 2005 11:56:51 AM

Jeru Guru... Does it matter? Whether in real life or fiction we tend to align ourselves with the good guys. When a Nazi officer demands to see someone's papers, it doesn't matter if we're watching Casablanca or a historical newsreel at Yad Vashem, we put our sympathies firmly with the person who has to identify him/herself. Yet if we are watching a true or fictional film of a British counterintelligence agent stopping a potential Axis spy on the streets of London, we align ourselves with the cause we perceive to be on the side of right.

Dave... When that eventually happens it will be a tremendous aid to security... but it will also raise other issues. Think about the fact that any time a high-tech ID is scanned, your presence is logged in a computer somewhere and a database of your movement and habits begins to be assembled. Now think about the abuses that took place this past summer and how much worse it could have been if the government had a better database of anti-disengagement protester's whereabouts... need I say more?

nrg... I can't wait. You usually bring ideas to a topic that hadn't occurred to me.

Posted by: David | Nov 28, 2005 1:11:52 PM

David - I echo your sentiments exactly. However, I have my own specialty when it comes to Israel's national ID card. While Israelies have there ID cards in a blue plastic wallet, mine is in an orange colored one.

After all, orange is the color of anti-disengagement, right? Oh yeah, its also the color of the Palestinian plastic holder.

My orange one is embossed on the outside, "teudat toshav eretz yisrael" (resident of the land of Israel) with a map of Israel on it. Granted, once in a while some security gaurd or policeman at a mall does a double take when they see it (especially since I'm showing them my gun license inside it)...but overall, I'm happy with it.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 28, 2005 4:01:09 PM

I don't have an ideal answer and I am not sure that one exists. I think that we are living in a time and place in which we have to be very careful regarding our civil liberties.

Security and safety are of paramount importance but we should never just give the gov't carte blance to do what they will.

Power is all too easily abused.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 28, 2005 6:47:21 PM

I am reminded of the words of John Adams: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes throuh a net. Our Constitution was made only for amoral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government ot any other."

As human history goes, the idea of a free populace, self governed, is a rare anomaly. It requires certain prerequisites of a society. When a society is no longer willing to maintain and insist upon such then dictatorship is right around the corner. People will eventually insist upon security ... no matter what the cost.

Posted by: Scott | Nov 28, 2005 9:13:11 PM

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary
security, deserve neither liberty or security" Benjamin Franklin.

Of course we give up some liberty for security - that is what the law is all about, enforced civilization.

I've never really had a problem with ID cards per se. They can be an excellent tool, even in regular civilian life - as a safeguard against theft (cheques, at the bank), and here in the US the habit of using a state driving license with all of the different application requirements seems haphazard and rife for abuse.
Libertarians are apt to say "there are plenty of laws on the books, they just need to be applied correctly" and in the case of Israel certainly this appears to be the case. A lot of the problems with checkpoints in the territories arise out of abuse - checkpoints are opened and closed without reason, people are made to wait for hours and are treated discourteously. Much of what you saw and what made you angry regarding disengagement opponents are exactly the same things that the Palestinians complain about.
In the States it seems that there is a movement towards the creation of a national ID. Here however the constitution would make some practices (showing ID on demand without suspicion) difficult to put into law and open to challenge in the Supreme Court. This is one of the things that makes the US so interesting.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 28, 2005 10:43:15 PM

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary
security, deserve neither liberty or security" Benjamin Franklin.

Of course we give up some liberty for security - that is what the law is all about, enforced civilization.

I've never really had a problem with ID cards per se. They can be an excellent tool, even in regular civilian life - as a safeguard against theft (cheques, at the bank), and here in the US the habit of using a state driving license with all of the different application requirements seems haphazard and rife for abuse.
Libertarians are apt to say "there are plenty of laws on the books, they just need to be applied correctly" and in the case of Israel certainly this appears to be the case. A lot of the problems with checkpoints in the territories arise out of abuse - checkpoints are opened and closed without reason, people are made to wait for hours and are treated discourteously. Much of what you saw and what made you angry regarding disengagement opponents are exactly the same things that the Palestinians complain about.
In the States it seems that there is a movement towards the creation of a national ID. Here however the constitution would make some practices (showing ID on demand without suspicion) difficult to put into law and open to challenge in the Supreme Court. This is one of the things that makes the US so interesting.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 28, 2005 10:43:42 PM

Jameel Rashid... Isn't there some kind of rule about the color of the cases or is that just a formality?

Scott & Lisoosh... You have chosen quotes that are at odds with one another. Scott, you believe that security must ultimately trump civil liberties while Lisoosh's quote disparages any compromise for the sake of 'temporary security'. However, I think Lisoosh is closer to the mark. We should see any compromise on liberties to be just that; a compromise. And any measures that force us to compromise our freedoms should be assumed to be temporary. In this way the current policy remains fluid, and accurately reflects the current needs of the public.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 12:53:20 PM

David,

FAR be from me to advocate fascism. I just see it coming and we've already topped the grade. A free society requires cohesion and we in the US and Israel have long ago lost that. Diversity is NOT our strength.

Posted by: Scott | Nov 29, 2005 7:42:27 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong--but didn't suicide bombings increase as Israeli presence in the West Bank increased? The settlements grew during the 90s, the by-pass roads grew, finally the second intifada erupted and then you had lots of suicide bombings...

Posted by: Elizabeth | Nov 29, 2005 10:41:00 PM

Scott... Diversity may not be our 'thing' but it's all we have to work with.

ELizabeth... Based on a quick perusal of your site and a glance at the comment you posted on Tuesday's post I think I might be hearing the sound of an axe being ground. What exactly does this comment have to do with the point of this post?

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 10:47:24 PM

David,

Yes. As I said ... we have already topped the grade. Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephania, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, all wore themselves out trying to straighten out the Jews and they never would listen.

There I go with that OT stuff again. Couldn't be helped.

Posted by: scott | Nov 30, 2005 8:30:20 PM

I too might be full of SH** but thought I'd share my blog of the same title:

Show me your papers:
http://gdaeman.blogspot.com/2005/12/show-me-your-papers.html

Posted by: GDAEman | Jan 15, 2006 11:50:55 PM

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