• U.S. Customs to Solve Terrorism by Asking Tourists for Their Social Media Accounts

    February 12, 2017 // 23 Comments »

    NSA_User_Activity_Leads


    The United States government seems to have a real thing for social media and terrorism, stoutly believing if only they could “take out” Twitter the global jihadi movement would collapse. Or something like that. Maybe it’s Instagram?



    Social Media vs. Jihad

    But while Trump talks the talk, Obama walked the walk.

    You may not know it, but since December the United States quietly changed the standard online entry form (ESTA) used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a part of your neighborhood Department of Homeland Security.

    The question added is “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier.” The question is for all foreign travelers’ who use the visa waiver (visa-free) system for admission into the U.S. The form is not used for American citizens.

    The form also asks for info on citizenship, passport data, and contact information in the U.S., along with hilarious questions inquiring if the traveler is coming to the U.S. to commit espionage, sabotage or terrorism (seriously; see here). Not so many people answer Yes.

    The entry process for all foreigners already includes fingerprinting, photographing, an in-person interview, and numerous database checks.


    The U.S. government had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors is producing one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind.

    And even though the social media question is voluntary, apparently most travelers have been filling in the blank out of fear of calling attention to themselves and prompting further attention at the border.

    As a reminder to all those who bark fascism at every turn: this change went into effect by order of the Obama administration, not Trump’s.

    And who is having their social media examined? Citizens from the visa-waiver countries. No, no, not those naughty people from the Seven Banned Muslims nations, but American allies like Japan, the UK, Germany and the like. And guess what? There’s not been a word of protest, not a single court challenge. It’s almost as if people paid no attention to any of this before Trump came long.

    Mohammed Atta on Twitter?

    According to the rules, the new info “will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

    So the concept is that Mohammed Atta (for example) rolls up to the Customs checkpoint at the airport, and jots down his Twitter handle as @terrorist911 and then enters the U.S. to resume his flight lessons. Someone from Customs later trolls Atta’s account to discover “Shout out to all the brothers, gonna lay down some whoop ass on Septemb–” Ah poo, only 140 characters, now we’ll never know.

    Image Courtesy of Edward Snowden



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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Teen Sues U.S. Over Cavity Drug Search for Which She was Billed $575

    June 23, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    strip search

    Ashley Cervantes, a then 18-year-old American citizen, was stopped at the Mexico border and, for some unspecified reason, perhaps related to her being young and of Hispanic ethnicity, accused by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of smuggling drugs.



    What Drugs?

    A search of her person and belongings proved fruitless, which often is a strong indicator that there are no drugs. The process involved being locked into a detention room for several hours, handcuffed to a chair, while several dogs were brought in to sniff at her. A request to call her mother was denied.

    But bullying is the best law enforcement tactic, so they gave her a body cavity search, which means a CBP agent put on some rubber gloves and shoved a finger up her vagina and butt. She was also made to squat pantless so female investigators could visually inspect her privates. Still no drugs.

    So Customs and Border Protection took her to a local hospital against her will, in handcuffs. No warrant, no consent. Instead, a Customs and Border Protection agent signed a “Treatment Authorization Request” as she was considered an alleged “potential internal carrier of foreign substance.” That form requested an X-ray.

    After the X-ray showed no drugs, doctors performed another vaginal and anal search. No drugs. She was finally released after seven hours of humiliation and given a bill for $575 for “medical treatment.”



    What Rights?

    Cervantes now has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the government. “[I] had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of my life, will always remember that my first pelvic and rectal exams were done under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil,” she charges.

    What Border?

    Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, or as they enter a CBP office on the border, as with Cervantes in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

    Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

    The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

    Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

    What Border, 2016 Edition?

    Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

    What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can and conduct warrantless searches.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Judge Sets Limits on Some Invasive Border Searches

    May 27, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    fourth amendment

    Only a scant 14 years after 9/11 opened the door to unprecedented government violations of the rights of American citizens, what has come to be known as the Post-Constitutional Era, there are small signs that our somnolent courts are slowly rousing.

    Slowly.



    The Case of Jae Shik Kim

    A federal judge determined the search of a traveler’s laptop without a warrant as he was leaving the country was unreasonable, in a ruling that could help derail the government’s long-held search criteria for international travelers.

    In the case, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia allowed defendant Jae Shik Kim to suppress key evidence the government found after searching his laptop at Los Angeles International Airport. The Department of Homeland Security suspected Kim of illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran and seized his computer before allowing him to board a flight home to Korea in December 2012. The government cloned Kim’s hard drive, shipped it off to a forensic lab, and searched it, uncovering a series of alleged “incriminating emails” that formed the basis for the government’s case against Kim.

    The court concluded the government not only conducted an unreasonable search, but further violated the Fourth Amendment by shipping the computer to a second location where they continued the extensive search.

    The judge wrote:

    The government points to its plenary authority to conduct warrantless searches at the border. It posits that a laptop computer is simply a container that was examined pursuant to this authority, and it submits that the government’s unfettered right to search cargo at the border to protect the homeland is the beginning and end of the matter.

    But to apply those principles under the facts of this case would mean that the border search doctrine has no borders. The search of the laptop began well after Kim had already departed, and it was conducted approximately 150 miles away from the airport [at the forensics lab]. The government engaged in an extensive examination of the entire contents of Kim’s hard drive after it had already been secured, and it accorded itself unlimited time to do so.

    There was little or no reason to suspect that criminal activity was afoot at the time Kim was about to cross the border, and there was little about this search — neither its location nor its scope and duration — that resembled a routine search at the border.”


    The Constitutional Borderline

    Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, as Mr. Kim was in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

    Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

    The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

    Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

    Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

    The same process works in reverse; at some point as you depart the U.S., the government believes you are “outside” and thus lack any Constitutional protections. That’s what happened to Mr. Kim.

    What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can set up checkpoints and conduct warrantless searches. At airports, American citizens are now similarly subjected to search and seizure as filmmaker Laura Poitras — whose work focuses on national security issues in general and Edward Snowden in the particular — knows firsthand. Since 2006, almost every time Poitras has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by government agents and her laptop and phone examined.

    Back to the Kim Case

    Hanni Fakhory, for Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the opinion in the Kim case wasn’t binding like an Appellate or Supreme Court decision that requires other courts have to follow suit. “But it’s persuasive because it adds to the growing body of case law that says digital devices are different,” he said.

    That means the next time the government searches someone’s phone, tablet or laptop on suspicion of criminal activity, a defense attorney can use the case as an example of an invalid forensic search, a deeply invasive search that reveals old emails, call records and other information that can’t be obtained just browsing through one’s device. It is a start.

    BONUS: The Supreme Court ruled last year in Riley v. California that law enforcement cannot search a cell phone during an arrest without a warrant.




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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

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