I haven't sparked a heated debate in a while, but I figured it might be about time for one."You forgo your right to privacy when you are seeking admission into the country. This is the kind of scrutiny the American public expects." - Ross Knocke, DHS Press Secretary
The above is a response to accusations that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have been a bit too thorough in their mission. Specifically, they have been snooping into laptops, PDAs, and other electronic devices, demanding passwords from users, and confiscating electronics and detaining passengers who refuse to provide officials with access to their digital data such as personal finances, emails, health records, and so forth. In a particular instance, an American citizen who travels out of the country frequently on business has been searched repeatedly upon reentry, supposedly because he's a Muslim and was born in Pakistan.
Is this guy just really unlucky or is he being singled out because of his appearance? I dunno, probably a little from Column A, a little from Column B. Probably a little more from Column B given the hypersensitivity of American authorities towards the Middleeast. But let's face it, that's not going to change anytime soon, so for now, let's just assume this guy is any American citizen and deal with the search of his personal property.
As I understand it, Customs has the authority to search your personal belongings before allowing you to enter the country, regardless of your citizenship. Mostly they're trying to prevent you from smuggling illegal things into the country or avoiding paying import duties on high-value items. But thanks to their integration with DHS, it's apparently also their mission to prevent terrorists from entering the country. I'm on board with this so far. Certainly, there's enough wackos already resident in the USA, we don't need anymore.
As for searching my personal belongings, I understand that doing so is the only realistic way to find out what I'm bringing in. However, if you need a warrant (and therefore probably cause) to sieze my home computer, why can a Customs agent sieze my laptop simply because I'm reentering the country as U.S. Citizen? More importantly, according to DHS, why do I have to forgo my privacy as a pre-requisite for entry? If that's what the American people expect, than why don't all citizens have to forgo their privacy daily? In principle, I understand the necessity of random searches. In principle, I don't really have an issue with a cursory search of my laptop. My bigger concern is that data on my computer is really no one's business but my own and who's to say how secure it is in the hands of a Customs officer? Instinctual distrust of a central authority is what makes America great and provides the important checks-and-balances of our system of government.
Whatever. Can we just tattoo a barcode on the back of my neck or implant my RFID tag and get it over with? Have it linked to a national database with all my personal data so I won't have to keep track of anything for myself anymore since I know the government will always have all my data anyway?
Besides, I guess this is all moot since you can't use American law to defend actions that take place outside of America, since, as a person trying to clear customs, you technically haven't yet entered America. Think of it like all those movies where someone is desperately running and juking and shedding grabbed clothes trying to get into the American Embassy to seek the of protection United States. If you can just bum rush the Customs officials and get past the official "Welcome to America" sign, you're on U.S. soil, and as a U.S. citizen, presumably guaranteed more rights than you were just on the other side of a largely imaginary line.