or subscribe to our
Twitter service


Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

January 18, 2010


ACLU - Privacy campaigners are continuing a legal challenge against random laptop border searches by US customs amid concerns there may be a racial bias in those delayed and inconvenienced by stop and search powers introduced as part of the war on terror.

The ACLU also argues that searches of mobile phones by US border agents in the absence of any reason to be suspicious also pose a unwarranted invasion of privacy while delivering few tangible benefits.

Customs and Border Protection agents searched over 1,500 electronic devices at the US border over a period of nine months between October 2008 and June 2009, according to documents obtained by the ACLU as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The documents also show that customs agents forwarded electronic files found on travelers' devices to other agencies almost 300 times.

Some of the travelers inconvenienced by these searches complained that they were ceaselessly accused of wrongdoing or otherwise embarrassed or inconvenienced by the searches, which agents are not obliged to justify under tightened regulations in force since July 2008. The policy was started by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama government.

The ACLU is concerned that travelers have been left unable to carry medical records, financial information, and photos when they travel without the possibility of government inspection for no good reason.

"The CBP's ability to take and view the personal files of anyone passing through U.S. borders without any suspicion not only presents an inconvenience to travelers, but also fails to protect sensitive personal information that is commonly stored in laptops and cell phones," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. "Fundamental constitutional problems with this policy exist, and must be addressed."

"The government has a legitimate interest in searching electronic devices where there is individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, but CBP's policy allows officials to exercise their power arbitrarily," she added.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has gotten out of hand to the point of becoming Kafkaesque. The makers of the full-body scanner that everyone wants to install because of the Christmas day incident say it would not have detected the explosives in that case. This makes them a useless waste of money.

Even worse, though, is the complete lack of accountability on the part of the screeners. They do not need anything resembling probable cause (which should make the entire exercise unconstitutional) and are given far too much power over the people they search.

A prime example was a trip my disabled partner made recently to visit his family. He has a rare genetic disorder that causes all of his joints to dislocate spontaneously multiple times a day. It is a very painful condition which means he can barely walk without a cane and cannot maintain any still position for very long. When he told a screener that it was literally impossible for him to hold his arms straight out to the side for several minutes as requested, he was declared uncooperative and pulled out for "special" screening which is apparently a euphemism for torture. His cane was taken away from him throughout this long process and when it finally ended, his carry on items and the cane were deposited at the end of a forty foot walk which he was required to make with no assistance. Every bit of this was clearly a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and showed a complete lack of regard for handicapped individuals that will eventually result in the death by screening of a disabled person if nothing is done about it.

As far as I know, there is not a single proven instance of TSA screening preventing a terrorist act, and abundant evidence that despite this intrusive and excessive process, the actual terrorists have no problem getting through. This is purely a PR exercise for the benefit of people too stupid to understand the complexities of the problem. It needs to end now.

January 19, 2010 10:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home