The White House Didn’t Pull the TSA Petition Early

by on August 13, 2012 · 0 comments

In the worlds of technology and government, I’m fond of joking, paranoia is just having a long time-horizon. Advances in data processing will make identifiable what is now anonymous. That “voluntary” pilot program will become full-fledged and mandatory.

But we need not apply the paranoid principle to the White House’s handling of the petition I started a few weeks ago asking the White House to have TSA follow the law. The petition ended on time. There’s no good evidence that its ending was hastened to cut off a late run at getting to 25,000 signatures.

Some folks had gotten the idea that we would have until midnight last Thursday, but it expired around mid-day. That’s about the same time that I created the petition weeks earlier, which is consistent with my assumption that the system is designed to expire petitions automatically when the time allowed for them to run has elapsed.

We could kvetch about losing some momentum when the petition function went down for a few hours around the time a great story came out on Wired’s Threat Level blog. But the folks at added a full day to all petitions to make up for the maintenance outage. The time to complain was then, and I didn’t, so that complaint has expired.

There’s lots of other stuff that is interesting about all this. It’s made me interested as a matter of political science what role petitions have in organizing and motivating people, and what role they have in signaling the importance of issues to elected (and unelected) officials.

On balance, petitioning is a small net positive—even when your petition fails to reach a requisite number. This petition has organized and motivated people, and it has signaled to government officials that this issue matters. We could have done more with a White House response, but we would have to have done more to get signatures first!

A petition shouldn’t be the only effort at changing policy, and this one certainly isn’t. While the petition was gathering signatures, the Electronic Privacy Information Center was renewing its legal challenge to the TSA policy. The Competitive Enterprise Institute weighed in with a well crafted and widely joined amicus brief.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals promptly ordered the TSA to answer EPIC’s petition. It is common for courts to simply reject petitions of this kind, so this is important progress. I don’t know whether anyone in the court was aware of the public interest in this, but I do know that people on Capitol Hill and in the White House have taken note of it. Success.

I’m pleased by getting … I dunno—85% of what a petition is for. I have no reason to believe that the petition was monkeyed with, and you can bet I would exploit the PR opportunity if I thought it had been!

Thanks to all who signed and forwarded the petition to friends and colleagues. You’ll be with is in the battle to bring TSA within the rule of law as it continues.

I’m confident of success! Given a long enough time-horizon…

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