Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let's see . . . what was that Amendment?

Last I knew, the United States had a Constitution--a Constitution that wasn't ratified by the founding states until they were assured there would be a certain set of Amendments appended to it--Amendments we call The Bill of Rights.

And . . . what was that Amendment? . . . Oh, yes! Number IV: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

And so now we read about new policies of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service:
CBP . . . officers may examine documents, books, pamphlets, and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives, and other electronic or digital storage devices. . . .

In the course of a border search, and absent individualized suspicion, officers can review and analyze the information transported by any individual attempting to enter, reenter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States, subject to the requirements and limitations provided herein. . . .

Officers may detain documents and electronic devices, or copies thereof, for a reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search. The search may take place on-site or at an off-site location. . . .

Officers may encounter information in documents or electronic devices that is . . . encrypted. To assist CBP in determining the meaning of such information, CBP may seek . . . decryption assistance from other Federal agencies or entities. Officers may seek such assistance absent individualized suspicion. . . .

--What part of being "secure in their . . . papers and effects" does the CBP not understand? (I'm talking, here, about U.S. citizens, not foreigners!)

I guess we should take comfort:
Unless otherwise approved by the principal field official such as the Director, Field Operations or Chief Patrol Agent, responses should be received within fifteen (15) days. This timeframe is to be explained in the request for assistance. If the assisting agency is unable to respond in that period of time, CBP may permit extensions in increments of seven (7) days. . . .

Officers encountering business or commercial information in documents and electronic devices shall treat such information as business confidential information and shall take all reasonable measures to protect that information from unauthorized disclosure. . . .

That should give you some reassurance, shouldn't it? The U.S. government and government agents would never engage in politically-motivated or self-aggrandizing (corrupt) behavior, would they? They are all above reproach, aren't they?

As the person who wrote the original article that alerted me to these policies noted,
The policies [a]ffect anyone entering the United States, including US citizens. Civil liberties and business travel groups have been pressing for months to have the government disclose publicly these policies, after receiving complaint after complaint from international and US travelers that have had their laptops, iPods and even cell phones taken, sometimes for months at a time.


It seems the American people have forgotten the heritage they were granted by their country's forefathers.

On the other hand, during periods of major political, economic, and social unrest, it sure seems nice--in theory, at least--that our government might protect us from sudden terror.

Is that what the U.S. government is able to do if and when it is given maximal authority over our lives? . . . Or does the government itself become, more and more, a--if not the--primary source of terror itself?
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