Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mobile Seizures By Customs (Follow-Up)

Over the weekend, we dove into the issue regarding the new power Customs and border agents gained through new policies implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.

As reported, agents may seize portable devices such as laptops at border-crossings for undetermined time and without suspicion.  Here is the summary of the directive as issued by the government:

"This policy provides guidance to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers, Border Patrol Agents, Air and Marine Agents, Internal Affairs Agents, and any other official of CBP authroized to conduct border searches (for purposes of this policy, all such officers and agents are hereinafter referred to as "officers") regarding the border search of information contained in documents and electronic devices.  More specifically, this policy sets forth the legal and policy guidelines within which officers may search, review, retain, and share certain information possessed by individuals who are encountered by CBP at the border, functional equivalent of the border, or extended border.  This policy governs border search authority only, nothing in this policy limits the authority of CBP to act pursuant to other authorities such as warrant or a search incident to arrest."

The purpose of the new policy is to allow CBP to ensure travelers are in compliant with federal laws.  While many news outlets are reporting about digital media being examined, copied, and potentially shared with other federal apparatuses, documents, books, and other non-electronic entities are also subject to searches.  This is for the purpose of "detecting information concerning terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and other national security matters; alien admissibility; contraband including child pornography, monetary instruments, and information in violation of copyright or trademark laws; and evidence of embargo violations or other import of export control laws".

While I applaud the sacrifice and hard work that our law enforcement officers do on a daily basis, this may lead us down the path towards that fine line between an open democratic society and the ones we've seen in the Soviet Union where movements of citizens are closely monitored.  At the very least, we are now a free society with a asterisk, that so long as we allow the government to know what we're reading, watching, and where we are at all times.

What is the next step?  Report who we talk to and what others say?  With GPS and location-based so prevalent in our mobile devices like the iPhone and and smartphones, wireless providers be required to log all our movements?  Remember, telecommunications companies have received blanket immunity from the federal government from prosecution and law suits.

Note:  CBP has indicated it "will protect the rights of individuals against unreasonable search and seizure".  As we look deeper into this issue, we will see how CBP plans to do just that.  Are we simply believe to believe this or is there a mechanism in place to ensure privacy and violation of the Bill of Rights?

Without a robust check in place, we all know we are the whim and mercy of any Border agent and the policy is ripe for abuse.

More follow up to coming.  Here are some related articles:

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