Buy a flight manual, get a grand jury subpoena

Occasionally, people have bad eBay experiences, but what happened to Ralph Omholt would never have happened before 9/11 and the USA PATRIOT Act:

A few months back, I successfully bid on an E-Bay item, advertised as a CD-ROM B-737 ground-school course. I was sure that Boeing had made such a CD-ROM, but there was no particular indication that such an object would contain sensitive or even proprietary information. The ad described the manual as “siimilar to that used by major airlines.”

So I made the purchase and, in good time, the instructional CD-ROM arrived at my house.

Then, as they say, the manure hit the air compressor.

Last week, I received a frantic e-mail message from the seller of the CDROM, who wrote with some urgency that he needed it back (with a full refund promised, of course). Curious, I picked up the phone and called the fellow, who works as a flight instructor. He revealed that the FBI had paid him a visit, warning that the content of the CD-ROM disc material – information on how to operate a Boeing 737 airliner – constituted “a national security threat.” The agents demanded that my new acquaintance recover and surrender to the FBI any and all such material that he had distributed. Obviously, copyright laws were also involved.

If that’s not crazy enough for you, here’s the kicker: shortly afterwards, Omholt got a call from the U.S. Attorney’s office asking if he’d received a subpoena to appear in front of a federal grand jury. He hadn’t yet, which is the only reason he was legally allowed to write about it at the time: the USA PATRIOT Act says that once you receive such a subpoena, if it is served in concert with a terrorist investigation, you aren’t allowed to tell anyone about receiving it. Never mind the fact that it effectively cancels one’s First Amendment rights — how the hell are you supposed to explain your absence to your employer or family?

After crap like this, I find it amusing that some Americans think of the Canadian system as “communist” or refer to this fine country as “Soviet Canuckistan”. From our vantage point up here, it looks as though you’ve beaten the Russkies at their own game [Flash required].

2 replies on “Buy a flight manual, get a grand jury subpoena”

Ralphie boy is a certified kook who had a breakdown while flying one day and his plane had to be landed by a real pilot who was dead heading. Then Ralph lost his license and is now rattling around the net with his tinfoil hat and cup in hand.

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