Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Border Searches, Privacy and Profiling

I've written before on seeming or actual violations of civil liberties under the Obama Administration. For the most part it's fair to say that progressives didn't care too much about such violations. They decided that they had bigger fish to fry. And with a few honorably consistent exceptions the conservatives who criticized the Obama Administration's civil liberties record were quiet as church mice when it came to local police violations of the civil/constitutional rights of black American citizens. So conservative critiques about the Obama Administration's hostility to freedom of the press or separation of powers or due process generally fell on deaf ears. Many conservatives were themselves oft indifferent to or opposed to expansive interpretations of civil liberties (that is after all why they were conservatives in the first place). Others were just using civil liberties as a convenient club with which to bludgeon President Obama. They would drop this club just as soon as a conservative President took office. There are two recent incidents that occurred under President Trump that are receiving some attention. They both occurred at the border. I'm no lawyer. It is my understanding however that the authorities have been given more leeway than normal to conduct questioning and searches at or near the border. This may especially be the case where the object of official interest is not an American citizen who has never been to the United States before. So far there is no right for such a person to travel to the United States. But in both of these recent cases the object of the additional and to my mind disturbing state actions was an American citizen returning home. Unfortunately the two citizens did not have the right skin tone, correct European styled name or especially, religion. And this could be what triggered the additional state scrutiny, regardless of their citizenship. 

On January 30, Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, flew back to Houston, Texas, from Santiago, Chile. On his way through the airport, Customs and Border Patrol agents pulled him aside. They searched him, then detained him in a room with a bunch of other people sleeping on cots. They eventually returned and said they’d release him if he told them the password to unlock his phone. Bikkannavar explained that the phone belonged to NASA and had sensitive information on it, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He eventually yielded and unlocked his phone. The agents left with his phone. Half an hour later, they returned, handed him his phone and released him. LINK

Now there are some obvious technical and common sense methods to prevent or make more difficult this government phone jacking. Perhaps we should all investigate them. But it's really the principle of the thing isn't it? Should I really have to take steps to prevent my own government from doing things to me at the border that they might not be able to do to me within the country?

Citizens must surrender laptops and phones if a border agent asks for them, but not passwords or social media information, CAIR-Florida spokseman Wilfredo A. Ruiz said. Border agents might give the device back and let the person go. Or they might hold onto it and seek a warrant to break it open. Or a wide range of responses in between.
"Sometimes they play hardball and delay you, maybe cause you to miss your flight or get home hours later," he said. "There's no magic formula." For the record, Bikkannavar's father is from South India and his mother is of German and Scottish descent. But Ruiz said his race and religion do not matter. "This widens the scope of those being targeted to those who are not perceived as being the traditional, white American," Ruiz said. "It is not a Muslim issue."

And then there was this:
The son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali said he was detained by immigration officials at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport because he's a Muslim. Muhammad Ali Jr., along with his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali were returning to Florida from Jamaica after speaking at a black history event. They were retrieving their bags at baggage claim, when an official pulled them aside.

"He asked me, 'what is your name?' " Ali Jr. told CNN's Don Lemon on "CNN Tonight." "Which I didn't think nothing of that."  The 44-year-old American citizen, who was born in Philadelphia added that the official asked for the origins of his name. "He said, 'OK, now, what is your religion?' " Ali Jr. said. "And I said, 'Muslim, I'm a Muslim.' And I thought to myself, that's kind of odd. He asked about my religion, and I'm traveling back into the country from where I came from?"

Ali Jr. said the immigration official questioned him in separate room from his mother, Camacho-Ali for nearly two hours. "They asked me, where was I born and what my religion was, where did I get the name from," Camacho-Ali said. According to Camacho-Ali, she was released after she showed the official a photo of herself with her then ex-husband, Muhammad Ali. "I figured, maybe if I show I'm really Muhammad Ali's ex-wife, they would believe me and make it less of a problem," she said.


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Saturday that it held Muhammad Ali Jr., the son of the late legendary boxer, for questioning in a Florida airport earlier this month, but said Ali wasn't singled out because he's a Muslim. Customs spokesman Daniel Hetlage declined to provide details of the incident, citing policies that protect travelers' privacy, but he wrote in an email that the agency does not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. "We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity," he said. "Integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles."

Again, perhaps someone with the relevant legal knowledge can speak definitively on what was done rightly or wrongly here. I can only speak to what I would have done in that situation or to be utterly honest, what I like to think I would have done. Who knows what any of us would do when someone with a badge, a gun and the ability to make your life unpleasant gets in your face. I dislike unnecessary confrontation. But I also despise cowardice. Often in life you must meet and defeat the challenge in front of you. If you run from those challenges you'll eventually regret it. It's no one's business what my religion is. It's no one's business why my parents named me as they did. It's no one's business what's on my phone, whom I talk to or what I say on my social media. And these are not things that any American citizen should be willing to surrender. The government, absent some sort of warrant or due process, shouldn't be able to prevent me from entering my country. Arrest me or leave me alone. But either way I'm not getting into a discussion with law enforcement or border guards. They're not my friends. I don't think anything good ever comes from conversations with officials who are looking for reasons to detain, arrest or search you. Once I've proven my identity in the same way that all the white citizens have proven theirs get out of my way. Perhaps now that it's President Trump overseeing these attacks on freedoms, more people will take note.
blog comments powered by Disqus