If you’re not hidden under a rock, you know about the latest bomb scare in Boston. Some MIT kid forgot that Boston cops think anything with an LED on it is a bomb.
A lot of people are saying she got what she deserved, or that she’s lucky to be alive. These people probably think that Jean Charles de Menezes should have worn different clothing before getting on the London Metro, and that Andrew Meyer should have never asked a question of John Kerry.
I think this is a tremendously dangerous trend for society, and not just the creative or strange types. Should we give police such broad license to use force that everyone needs to consider, first and foremost, if their actions, their legal actions, might freak out a policeman?
If we do so, there are substantial costs. They’re not visible. A few moments of time every day, considering how the police feel about you. A little less bizarre or riqsue public art. A little less creativity and verve in life, as we all ask “what if a cop shoots me?”
What would have happened to the first people designing and testing cell phones, if homemade electronics with a battery had been cause for concern? How would we test keyless car entry systems, if a police officer had shot people walking up to cars without unlocking them? Even Dave Maynor would be in trouble. Just look at his art:
When I was a kid, Radio Shack sold breadboards (like the one the student was wearing.) Tinkering with electronics was a key part of what launched the Homebrew computer club. Tinkering with dangerous chemicals was an important part of the development of modern photography.
Do we want everyone who tinkers, invents, hacks or makes projects to have to worry that cops with submachine guns are going to show up and ask agitated questions? Are those filters good for society?
Here at Emergent Chaos, we’re fans of, well, emergent chaos that happens when those filters go away.
Photos: Lisa Poole, AP, and Dave Maynor, Errata, respectively.
[Update: Chris Soghoian makes the useful point that lots of bombs have no visible wires at all, being hidden inside other things. And while protecting against dumb terrorists is useful, it's not worth giving up our ability to tinker, build or innovate.]