Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about the scandal here in the U.S. dealing with the National Security Agency collecting user data from various sources on the Internet and tracking phone calls. The entire affair has reopened the debate about how much access the government should have to the private information on its citizens and what exactly those citizens should know about how it is used. For their part, the NSA, the President and other elements of the U.S. government have defended their surveillance techniques by saying that they are necessary in order to keeps tabs on terrorists and to maintain American security. And judging from the reaction from the average person here, most people don’t seem to mind all that much.
But what if Prism and the other NSA programs are just of the tip of the iceberg? Where does it all end and what else is going on that we don’t know about? Are these programs a threat to our ability to move about freely? And what about explorers who often travel to places that are deemed by the U.S. government as locations that harbor terrorists? For instance, right now there are a numerous climbing teams in the mountains in Pakistan, which is a country that is known for being friendly towards extremist anti-American groups. After all, this is the country in which Osama Bin Laden was able to stay well hidden for years.
Some of these questions, and more, are explored in an article written by CuChullaine O’Reilly, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and founder of the Long Riders Guild. The article is entitled “Threats to Travel” and it was posted on the blog of explorer Mikael Strandberg a few days ago. It is an interesting read to say the least, particularly if you enjoy traveling to remote places or you are an explorer of those places.
In the article, CuChullaine discusses the growing length of America’s “No Fly List” which prevents anyone on it from getting on a commercial airline bound for the States or traveling inside the country. It is estimated that that list now contains as many as one million names, having grown from just 16 prior to 9/11. He also takes a look at some of the steps taken historically by oppressive states to restrict the movement of citizens and sees some eerie similarities here.
The article is a long one, but it poses some important questions about what is and isn’t acceptable in the modern age of travel and exploration. It is also very thought provoking, taking a good look at how government actions can have a profound impact on our ability to move about freely. At first glance, some of the actions and programs enacted by the U.S. government and other countries may not seem like much of a threat to explorers, but underneath they could have repercussions that could be felt for decades to come. This is definitely an interesting read.