Your Papers, Sir: Expanded Border Search Powers for USA
Apparently having never heard of email, the Department of Homeland Security has quietly expanded its search-and siezure mandate from electronic devices to paper documents. Basically, any visitor to the USA is now subject to having his or her books/notebooks/work material siezed with no reasonable cause, and good luck getting 'em back.
Can anyone think of any reason why any malefactor would physically carry anything incriminating over a border, rather than mailing or emailing it, because I cannot. This rule only punishes law-abiding visitors with the wrong surname or skin-tone, and further diminishes the American reputation abroad.
I'm a US citizen living abroad, and I refuse to bring my personal laptop back to the States, since, if I miss shaving for half an hour, I tend to get "randomly" selected for search. That means I'm stuck using a cruddy XP machine with poor power management instead of my trusty (but admittedly old) iBook.
Recently obtained documents show that last year the Department of Homeland Security quietly reversed a two-decades-old policy that restricted customs agents from reading and copying the personal papers carried by travelers, including U.S. citizens. The documents were made public today by the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain policies governing the searches and questioning of travelers at the nation’s borders.
The documents show that in 2007, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) loosened restrictions on the examination of travelers' documents and papers that had existed since 1986. While CBP agents could previously read travelers' documents only if they had "reasonable suspicion" that the documents would reveal violations of agency rules, in 2007 officers were given the power to "review and analyze" papers without any individualized suspicion. Furthermore, whereas CBP agents could previously copy materials only where they had "probable cause" to believe a law had been violated, in 2007 they were empowered to copy travelers' papers without suspicion of wrongdoing and keep them for a "reasonable period of time" to conduct a border search. The new rules applied to physical documents as well as files on laptop computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.
Compared to searching through and copying your hard drive, this may seem like a minor deal, but it's yet another example of DHS expanding its authority in ways that are very likely to be abused.
The article trots out James Jay Carafano from the Heritage Foundation with a couple of interesting statements. Let's take them in order. First:
"The idea that we would create some kind of sanctuary for criminals and terrorists to carry things across the border to me is absolutely ludicrous."
Well, that's not just an exaggeration, it's wrong. Does Carafano actually believe that someone manually walking a laptop across the border is the only way that data gets across the border? Of course that's not true. Data flows across borders via the network all the time -- with no customs review whatsoever. No one is walking across the border with a laptop thinking that's the best way to get some data across the border. Then there's this statement:
"It's also unrealistic to require probable cause when you think about the millions of people a day who come in and go out of the country."
Let's just change a few words in that statement and see how Carafano feels about it: "It's also unrealistic to require probable cause when you think about the millions of people a day who walk up and down the streets of America." Yet, we don't hear Carafano pushing for a removal of probable cause for searches on the street, do we?