Monday, 22 March 2004
USA Supreme Court hears argument on ID case
In a case with profound implications on the freedom to travel (in the USA, that's part of the First Amendment to the Constitution: "the right of the people ... peacably to assemble") the USA Supreme Court hears arguments today in Hiibel v. Nevada, in which a Nevada cowboy was arrested, while standing off the side of a rural road, under a state law providing that:
1. Any peace officer may detain any person whom the officer encounters under circumstances which reasonably indicate that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime....
3. The officer may detain the person pursuant to this section only to ascertain his identity and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his presence abroad. Any person so detained shall identify himself.
At the time, the police officer told Hiibel that he was "investigating an investigation". Later, he claimed to have been investigating a complaint of domestic violence against Hiibel's daughter, who was in a (legally parked) truck nearby. But the video of the entire incident, taken by a camera in the arresting officer's car, shows that none of the officers made any attempt to question or ascertain the condition of Hiibel's daughter until she protested after Hiibel's arrest -- at which point they seized her too.
Yet Hiibel was convicted, and the conviction upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court in the decision now on appeal to the USA Supreme Court.
The gory details, including all of the legal documents in the case, are on Hiibel's Web site. But in addition to its direct application, the Supreme4 Court's decision in the Hiibel case is likely to be extremely significant in defining the extent of permissible government ID demands on travellers, by airline and otherwise.
John Gilmore, himself the plaintiff in Gilmore v. Ashcroft, the pending Federal lawsuit challenging the requirement for airline passengers on domestic flights within the USA to produce identity documents (and challenging the secrecy of the relevant government "security directives", which makes it impossible for travellers to know what, if anything, those directives actually require), has filed a friend of the court brief pointing out the Nevada court's error in assuming both that the law requires airline passengers to produce evidence of their identity, and that such a law is Constitutional, when neither issue has yet been settled.
PrivacyActivism, the Cyber Privacy Project, and FreeToTravel.org, in another friend of the court brief that draws heavily on some of my own arguments about the difference between "to identify" (state one's name or identity) and "to produce credentials or proof of identity", points out both the vagueness of the law (what is sufficent statement or evidence of identity?), the impotance of anonymity as a right, and -- perhaps most significantly -- the importance of freedom to travel as a right.
The Supreme Court's decision will be announced by the end of the term, probably in late June or early July of this year.
[Addendum, 22 March 2004: Dahlia Lithwick in MSN Slate has the first blow-by-blow of who said what during today's oral argument.]Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 22 March 2004, 09:51 ( 9:51 AM) | TrackBack (0)