Apparently, the right to privacy no longer exist for anyone crossing the border as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has claimed that they have a right to search, without warrant or probable cause, anyone who comes into this country, including citizens.
Amir Khan says he becomes frustrated and humiliated every time he enters the United States and federal agents search his computers. Khan, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, says it has happened five times since 2003. He says agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection have even forced him to give them access to password-protected, confidential information from his company and his banking records.
And the scope of what Customs may search for is apparently both unlimited and arbitrary:
The Customs and Border Protection defends the searches, saying the agency does not need to show probable cause to look inside suitcases or laptops.
“We have broad search authority at the borders to determine admissibility and look for anything that may be in violation of criminal law,” says agency spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger.
A DHS spokesman dismissed the complaints of travelers like Mr. Khan with the following statement:
“You forgo your right to privacy when you are seeking admission into the country…This is the kind of scrutiny the American public expects.”
Keep in mind that Mr. Khan is not just a foreign visitor but an American citizen. The government’s reply here is apparently not just restricted to foreign travelers with criminal records or those fitting a terrorist’s profile who come here, the government has openly said that United States citizens traveling abroad have no expectation of privacy if they’re coming back into their own country and anything you’ve got with you is fair game. Got a risque picture from your wife that she sent you while you were on a month-long business trip? Now you get to share it with the guard at Customs if they demand access to your cellphone or computer. Got confidential information for a future business deal? Now the government gets to see it too. Got your bank account or credit card information saved and encrypted on your laptop so you can conduct transactions while traveling? Now that information may get tossed into a government database where it’s vulnerable to identity theft. Assuming, course, that they don’t choose to seize the offending electronic device as well:
Situations for travelers such as Khan are at issue in a lawsuit filed last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit accuses customs agents of “lengthy questioning and intrusive searches” and seeks clarification on the law that allows such searches. The San Francisco, California-based foundation, which works to defend people’s rights in the digital world, says it knows of more than a dozen cases in which electronic devices such as cell phones, BlackBerries, MP3 players and laptops have been searched by customs agents. In some cases, they have been confiscated and never returned.
There are those who would probably feel that such searches are justified. After all, terrorists can hardly be expected to walk up to the Customs officials to announce their presence. The problem with this line of reasoning, however, is that the overwhelming majority of people who come to this country are not terrorists, most are law-abiding people who come here for the same reasons any of us might go to their countries. Some are travelers who wish to come and see the United States and spend their money (which they’ll be more than happy to spend elsewhere if it becomes too inconvenient), some are people who come to the United States to conduct business that contributes to economic growth (which they’ll be more than happy to conduct elsewhere if the government gets too intrusive), and some are people who come here because they wish to see what a free society is supposed to look like. Apparently, their first impression of our free society will not include an expectation to privacy.
Update: Commenter KipEsquire has pointed out that DHS’ approach is in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Ramsey (1977), which apparently makes the actions of Customs legal, if not necessarily just or wise.
I Can’t Think Of A Catchy Title
I suppose the best way to describe myself would be to say that I have a problem with authority. I’ve always disliked when people told me what to do, even as a young child, and I’ve always preferred to find my own path through life and make my own decisions, even if it occasionally went against the conventional wisdom and sometimes worked to my short-term disadvantage. My dad said I inherited it from him, but that I’ve taken it to a whole new level. When I was young I wanted to be a journalist, until I got to college and realized that journalism was less about the search for objective truth than it was about writing the stories that best suited your employer’s interests, whether they were true or not (which didn’t sit well with me at all). So I drifted aimlessly through a couple of years of college as an indifferent (often drunk) student, unsure of what to do with myself until one of my fraternity brothers gave me a copy of “The Fountainhead” and I got hooked on the ideas that success and a refusal to conform to societal standards were not mutally exclusive, and that the greatest evil in the world was society and government’s failure to recognize or accept individuality and individual freedom as a strength, not a weakness. So I threw myself into studying politics and history, worked in a few political campaigns after college, had some success, and thought about doing a career in politics until I realized that most of the people I knew who had never had a career outside of politics had no comprehension of how the real world actually worked and tended to make a lot of bad, self-absorbed decisions that rarely helped the people they claimed to be representing.
That didn’t sit well with me either, so I decided to put any thoughts of going into politics on hold until I’d actually had a life and possibly a real career, and I spent the next couple of years drifting between a series of random yet educational jobs (debt collector, deliveryman, computer salesman, repo man, dairy worker) that taught me the value of hard work, personal responsibility and the financial benefits of dining at Taco John’s on Tuesday nights (2 tacos for a buck) when money got tight.
After awhile, however, the desire to see the world (and the need for a more consistent and slightly larger paycheck) convinced me to join the Army, where I spent ten years traveling around the world on the government dime working as an intelligence analyst. I generally enjoyed my time in the military, despite the aforementioned problem with authority (which wasn’t as much of an issue in the military as many people might think it would be), and I got to see that the decisions our political leaders make were sometimes frivolous, often ill-informed, and always had unforeseen repercussions down the road…especially on the soldiers tasked with implementing those decisions. I was fortunate enough to spend most of my 10 years in the military doing jobs I enjoyed, traveling to countries that I always wanted to see (Scotland is the greatest place in the world to hang out, Afghanistan is very underrated) and working with people I liked and respected, until I finally decided that at 35 it was time to move into a job where I didn’t have the threat of relocation lying over my head every two or three years, where I didn’t have to worry about my friends being blown up, and where I didn’t have to work in any capacity for George W. Bush.
I work now for a financial company in Kansas where I’m responsible for overseeing, pricing and maintaining farms, commercial and residential properties, mineral assets, insurance policies, annuities, etc. In my spare time I like to read books on economics, history, and politics (I’m preparing to tackle Murray Rothbard’s “Man, Economy & State” and Von Mises’ “Human Action”…should take me about a year at the rate I’m currently finishing books), watch movies, and destroy posers on “Halo 3” (where I’m signed in under “UCrawford” for anyone interested in taking a shot at me some time). I used to play rugby until age, inconsistent conditioning, and a string of gradually worsening injuries finally convinced me to quit. I’m a rabid fan of the Kansas Jayhawks in general and their basketball and football programs in particular and I’m also a devoted fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. I’m also fond of going online and debating/picking fights with people on the merits of the philosophy of individual freedom…sometimes to the point of being an asshole (but hopefully a reasonably well-informed asshole). I’ve been a big fan of The Liberty Papers ever since finding it online, I respect the body of work they’ve put out, and I’m honored that Brad Warbiany invited me to join his jolly band of freedom fighters. So cheers, Brad, and to everyone else I look forward to reaching consensus or locking horns with you in the near future.