July 19, 2003
Speech v. Politeness
I have some sympathy for the case that John Gilmore is trying to make with his "Suspected Terrorist" buttons. His point, as articulated in this piece from Politech: John Gilmore: I was ejected from a plane for wearing "Suspected Terrorist" button, is that the button...
refers to all of us, everyone, being suspected of being terrorists, being searched without cause, being queued in lines and pens, forced to take our shoes off, to identify ourselves, to drink our own breast milk, to submit to indignities. Everyone is a suspected terrorist in today's America, including all the innocent people, and that's wrong. That's what it means. The terrorists have won if we turn our country into an authoritarian theocracy "to defeat terrorism".
Fine. Good point. But British Airways is a private carrier and they can, and should, make decisions about what customers they are willing to serve. Just as I should be able to kick John out of my house for wearing that button (I wouldn't though). Frankly I think wearing a button like this on an airplane was rude--John obviously knew it would make people feel uncomfortable (I presume that was the point.) Do I think he should go to jail for it or be punished by the state? Of course not. But I do want airlines to create comfortable travelling environments and think they have a right to do this.
Now I'm not saying BA made the right decision. Sounds like they had a silly over-reaction. That's their right and it's John's right to choose not to fly with them in the future. My point is that this is a very different thing than those restrictions put on us by the government--which has ability to use coersive force--and conflating the two weakens the whole case.
Now before Jason accuses me of being inconsistent with my post on spam below, I'm not. I don't think the state shoud prevent John from wearing his buttons, nor should they present him from sending out whatever email he wants to. But BA has the right to refuse service, and so should ISPs.