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Ferry company in Vermont searching workers
Gutting civil liberties

Dear Socialist Worker,
Every morning, when I leave my house in Burlington, Vt., I look at the waters of Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain is a large lake that brings together the states of New York and Vermont, and the Canadian province of Quebec. Most of the traffic on the lake is recreational except for the network of car and passenger ferries that take workers to and from their worksites most days of the year. The primary provider of this service runs three routes between New York and Vermont, which carry around 200,000 passengers a year.

Since September 11, the subsequent passage of the repressive legislation known as the USA PATRIOT Act, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the ferry company has instituted a system of random vehicle and passenger searches. These searches include identification checks and vehicle trunk searches.

Mike Cassidy is one of the 200,000 annual passengers on the ferry system. An attorney who works at the Plattsburgh, N.Y., office of Prisoners' Legal Services of New York, he recently filed suit--along with attorney William Nelson and Allen Gilbert, the executive director of ACLU-Vermont--seeking to halt the searches and identification checks.

Besides his work defending indigent prisoners incarcerated in New York, Cassidy also defended protesters arrested during the National Governor's Association meetings in Vermont in 1995.

Much like other so-called security measures currently in place in the U.S., these "screenings" provide no real protection from potential terror attacks and are mostly an inconvenience to the average traveler. More importantly, they are an infringement on the very freedoms that Washington's over-hyped "war on terror" is supposedly being fought to protect.

One could argue, as Cassidy does, that these searches are another "part of the wider and distasteful campaign of promoting fear and suspicion in order to justify ever greater erosion of our civil liberties."

In an e-mail to me, he also noted that "the rationale used here for these search practices can just as easily be translated and applied to any bridge, road or shopping mall. In effect, this could fundamentally alter the landscape of 4th Amendment law and protections, which up to now have prohibited general suspicion-less roadblocks and checkpoints. We're on a dangerous trajectory here, and I'm hoping to nip it in the bud now, before it grows more accepted and entrenched and harder to fight later."
Ron Jacobs, Burlington, Vt.

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