Jan 18, 2011
For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are. One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary. Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security’s practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products — laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like — copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it.
Worse, all of this is done not only without a warrant, probable cause or any oversight, but even without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in any crime. It’s completely standard-less, arbitrary, and unconstrained. There’s no law authorizing this power nor any judicial or Congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing. And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse — not even to have their property returned to them.
When you really think about it, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. Government gets away with doing this. Seizing someone’s laptop, digging through it, recording it all, storing the data somewhere, and then distributing it to various agencies is about the most invasive, privacy-destroying measure imaginable. A laptop and its equivalents reveal whom you talk to, what you say, what you read, what you write, what you view, what you think, and virtually everything else about your life.
It can — and often does — contain not only the most private and intimate information about you, but also information which the government is legally barred from accessing (attorney/client or clergy/penitent communications, private medical and psychiatric information and the like). But these border seizures result in all of that being limitlessly invaded. This is infinitely more invasive than the TSA patdowns that caused so much controversy just two months ago. What kind of society allows government agents — without any cause — to seize all of that whenever they want, without limits on whom they can do this to, what they access, how they can use it: even without anyone knowing what they’re doing?