What happens when you refuse to answer a passport control officer's questions

In April, Paul Karl Lukacs landed at San Francisco International Airport after visiting China, and he refused to tell the passport control officer why he was there. He reports what happened on his blog.
“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently. She said that her questions were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress instead of refusing to cooperate with her.

She asked me to take one of my small bags off her counter. I complied.

She picked up the phone and told someone I “was refusing to cooperate at all.” This was incorrect. I had presented her with proof of citizenship (a U.S. passport) and had moved the bag when she asked. What I was refusing to do was answer her questions.

A male Customs and Border Protection officer appeared to escort me to “Secondary.” He tried the good cop routine, cajoling me to just answer a few questions so that I could be on my way. I repeated that I refused to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country.

“Am I free to go?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

Detained By The Feds For Not Answering Questions


  1. I found this gem in the comments on the linked site.

    K-Rod said…

    The proper answer to the first question:


    Sir, what kind of business?


    1. I just traveled to UK from US yesterday. When i left US i was put through one of those full body scans just to be looked at with horney looks when i went to pick up my shoes on the other side…But this is nothing compare to what i had to go through when in went to the passport check in UK. I was asked about any question you can think of if you were to write someones biography.Even the birthday of the person i was visiting…and the limit on my credit card..if i was living alone in US and what i did for a living..i am a US citizen mind you but at the end i was given a 6 month visa that i neither asked for nor do i need for a 4 weeks vacation….But the best question ever was if i had paid for my ticket or not… I am aware that there is no rush to work a long line in \Europe but it made me think if this sort of questioning is even legal…At the end the femal officer was kind enough to show me the wash room and stamp my passport with a visa that i did not need and did not ask for…Are customes and immigration making up their own questionars ?????????????

  2. It’s really amazing how acting like a jerk gets you treated like a jerk. Actually, having read the whole self-congratulatory story, I’m a little surprised he got through as easily as he did.

    1. It’s true that he could have been a little nicer about this. But his point was valid – the highlight of which I agree with wholeheartedly:

      The CBP goons want U.S. citizens to answer their questions as a ritualistic bow to their power. Well, CBP has no power over me. I am a law-abiding citizen, and, as such, I am the master, and the federal cops are my servants. They would do well to remember that.

      We keep forgetting that. We have been taught *very* well to forget that.

      1. This wasn’t about the “goons” exercising arbitrary power over him, much as that would validate his fantasies of victimhood. The government has a legitimate reason to have incoming passengers go through customs. His unspoken assertion here is that being a U.S. citizen puts him beyond suspicion for smuggling, evading import duties, etc. Which is, to put it nicely, patently absurd.

    2. It’s not their job to make personal judgments on if someone is an asshole or not; it;s their job to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling.

      Let’s not forget their job for a second ay. They’re not superior beings, they’re paid employees with given powers.

      If you were a ‘bit of an ass’ in a McDonalds would you expect to be detained by their staff?

    1. He could’ve worded his refusal a little more politely, but it’s a sorry state of affairs when people equate “exercising your rights and not allowing TSA thugs to overstep their authority” with “being an asshole”.

  3. So you mean there will be a confrontation if I act confrontational? What a shocker!

    This guy just sounds like an attention whore.

  4. This guy acted like a jerk. No surprise he was detained and delayed. Instead of wasting everyone’s time, he should have just answered the questions.

  5. More negative nellies. He was simply trying to prove a point about following regulations that were invented as opposed to legislated. I find both the millimeter-wave radar and the feel-me-up/pat-me-down process to be demeaning and unnecessary (and they’re only at some airports! not all!), and I wish I had the guts to refuse them on principle.

    I’m just glad this guy tried his experiment on his way home, instead of risking his vacation by trying it on the way out.

  6. I realize we here at BoingBoing like to push the issue of personal privacy, but… is this REALLY that unreasonable?

    1. The simple fact that this man is a US citizen does not mean he is above suspicion. He acts like it should make him so, but US citizens can perform excellent activities extremely well, i.e. drug-running.

    2. He didn’t just refuse to answer their questions. He refused to say jack shit to the security officers and, as other people have stated, acted like a general asshole.

    3. Someone in the comments thread for the original post pointed out that the officer was likely performing a Customs task as opposed to an Immigration task. Immigration and Customs do, after all, fall under the same department, and apparently those passport checking dudes/dudettes do both. It is NOT unreasonable to have a Customs officer ask you a few polite questions about your trip.

    1. True. After coming back from a trip through several eastern European countries, my immigration/customs officer and I had a lovely chat about art, and I showed him a few of my drawings.
      I gave him my card and actually connected with a potential customer in a place that I’d least expect to.

    2. 1. The simple fact that this man is a US citizen does not mean he is above suspicion. He acts like it should make him so, but US citizens can perform excellent activities extremely well, i.e. drug-running.

      IANAL, but I believe the point is that since he is a U.S. citizen, he has a right to enter the U.S.. Period. If the cops have probable cause to suspect he’s committing a crime or there’s a warrant for his arrest, they can detain him. If they don’t, they can’t.

      I’m not above suspicion, and probably neither are you. However, I don’t expect to be randomly stopped on the street by a cop and questioned. I think the point here is that legally, it makes no difference that he’s crossing the border instead of the street.

      1. if you are wandering around in an area known for drug dealing a cop most certainly can stop and ask you what you are doing there. Are you going to be a jerk and refuse to answer on principle or simply tell him that you were looking for X place and mapquest gave you bad directions.

        Refusing to answer Immigrations questions is a bit like pulling the later. It can cause them to be suspicious, particularly if you are coming from a country where blackmarket sales, or drugs or whatever are known to happen. Just because you are a US citizen doesn’t mean you can’t possibly be a smuggler/mule.

    3. “He refused to say jack shit to the security officers and, as other people have stated, acted like a general asshole.”

      As pointed out in the full story; that’s called your right to silence.

      If you think there’s something wrong with that then I’m more inclined to think that you’re an asshole.

    4. IF it was a Custom’s officer then make it a Custom’s issue.

      Require a thorough check of all his luggage and carry ons including the data on any digital devices to ensure that he has zero contraband items, pirated software etc.

  7. facepalm. Just cooperate within reason. It’s not like your right to remain silent becomes a mandate to make someone’s job that much more difficult.
    This little experiment showed me that public officials used the proper amount of restraint and pressure to try to get information while protecting a jerk’s constitutional rights.

  8. Wow … Bunches of silly comments, then one decent one.

    Does it not bother ANYONE these days that we CITIZENS are being bled of our rights every day in small and large ways.

    This man is an AMERICAN CITIZEN and should not have to answer for what he was doing anywhere. Do you suppose a terrorist would say “I was in China visiting to plan an attack on america” .. Give me a break…

    And to be sure, I don’t think not answering nonsense questions is being a jerk. I think the fact that most answer them means they are sheep.

    1. Reminds me of an old Life in Hell comic, along the lines of:

      “What not to say to administrators: ‘The crime is not that I rebelled, it is that the other kids do not. That they are stultified by the…’ What to say instead: ‘I’ll be good from now on, sir.'”

  9. I’m surprised that he didn’t ask “Why not?” when the goon told him he was not free to go? I wonder if he has a reason to sue them for unlawful detention…

  10. If you had done this in the states, you would have been much worse off. Chinese immigration are quite friendly.

    US immigration is probably the most difficult in the world, maybe second to Australia. One area you do not mess with is immigration. Never.

    Always have answers prepared and only offer the minimum amount of information to respond to the question.

    1. Australia being unfriendly at customs?

      Sorry, but that is a load of bull. I have been through their customs 7 or 8 times, there was always enough staff, they were super friendly, it was a very relaxed atmosphere. They do ask you about trips to farms and will inspect the soles of your boots, but that is quite understandable with the huge problems they have with imported pests.

      My experience with US immigration on the other hand was horrible: Interrogation like questioning, extremely long waiting periods, and taking my fingerprints and photos, even though they were already on my RFID-ed passport.
      Add to that that I was almost refused boarding in Chile (on a flight to Colombia, then on to Miami…) because I could not supply my esta number.

  11. I was with him for part of it. I can buy not answering the questions about what he was doing in China. It’s his private business. Fine. But he lost me when he’d essentially won and they were just going to check his bags, and he refused to answer the question, “Did you pack your own bags?” O.K., now you’ve gone from keeping your privacy to being a jerk. You made your point. Let it go. It’s like a confrontation in a bar that’s just about to blow over, but that one drunk guy has to make just ONE more remark when everybody’s walking away, and so a fight breaks out.

    1. The point is he had answered those questions, in written form prior to having his bags checked.

      As stated many times over; this was about him making the point that because these people like to exercise their power, doesn’t mean they have the right to do so.

  12. I gather the position of this blogger is that any questioning by border agents of American citizens re-entering the country whatsoever, no matter how perfunctory or innocuous, is an act of oppression.

    That strikes me as an extreme perspective. Even without security motive, the government arguably has a right and a legitimate interest in gathering basic data on persons entering and leaving the country.

    It is obvious to the objective observer that his antagonistic and confrontational manner aroused attention, not the mere exercise of what he takes to be his inalienable right.

    1. Legitimate interest, maybe, but they don’t have the right to know of your personal matters. Remember, you have the right to remain silent, they don’t have the right to force anything out of you at all. He had a written declaration of what was in his bags, and he even allowed them to inspect them, so it doesn’t matter who the hell packed them.

      Customs may have a right to inspect your belonging, but they don’t have a right to grill you about what turns up inside of them, even if it’s drugs they can’t force you to say “oh well those are mine!”

    2. Only people have rights (some of them inalienable). Governments have authority bestowed by law passed by our representatives.

      Let the government take power and they will. Every time.

      So what is next? They question WHY you are going somewhere within your own country?

      Declaring resident non-citizens a threat and isolating them in concentration camps? Wait, those are Indian reservations…

      1. Governments also have “powers.” For instance, a government has the power to impose taxation and conscription, regulate trade, take private property for public use (eminent domain), and legislate, enforce, and rule upon laws and actions in violation of those laws.

        Whether or not in this particular case the representatives of the government overstepped their authority in enforcing the government’s powers, to deny that a government has powers (which it is granted through the sovereignty of law, which is itself granted through popular sovereignty, in accordance with what old Rousseau called a “social contract”) seems at best quixotic.

    3. Even without security motive, the government arguably has a right and a legitimate interest in gathering basic data on persons entering and leaving the country.

      Governments don’t have rights they have powers. People have rights and those rights limit the powers of the government.

  13. I suppose if he wanted to make a point and be a pain in the fucking ass he did a good job. I hate all of the extra security measures, the government’s police state mentality, etc. I do have a problem though with people who go out of their way to cause a problem. If they take you out of line to search you, make a fuss. If they deny you getting on an airplane, throw feces at them, hell I’ll come and throw feces at them too. But to be purposefully obstinate for no better reason than to irritate the bottom level scum of the security apparatus is just plain silly. It isn’t going to change a single fucking thing.

    At least he can pat himself on his back and get the attention he was looking for. Wake me up when he does something that doesn’t involve him sitting and reading while waiting until the next incompetent boob comes along to talk to him before sending him home. He seriously needs a big boot to his ass.

  14. He may be a jerk, but he’s my kind of jerk. Failing to exercise your rights results in their disappearance.
    He doesn’t have to be nice and should receive impartial treatment from security regardless.
    It’s really that simple.

    1. “He doesn’t have to be nice and should receive impartial treatment from security regardless.
      It’s really that simple.”

      Really? Doesn’t have to be nice, no, but he doesn’t need to treat someone like an inferior just because he is a smug asshole.

      nutbastard • #35 “You aren’t being a jerk when your steak arrives cold and you send it back, and there’s no need for please and thank you at that point.”

      No, you’re not being a jerk. But from that point on if you treat you server like crap because the kitchen messed up, it makes you an asshole.

      Jesus people, asking questions upon re-entry to the country isn’t a new post-wtc thing, they have been doing it for a LONG time. I remember going to Canada as a little kid and the CANADIAN (OMG!!1 Canadian Fascist Asshole1!1!!) border guard asked how we were doing, what we were coming into Canada for, then sent us on our way. Same questions upon re-entering the US from the US Border Guard.

      For those that think those questions are pointless, they aren’t. A friend works as a boarder guard on the US/Canadian border near Toronto. He had a car with four men come through, asked them how they were and what they were doing in Canada. Their behavior and answers to those questions didn’t fit the thousands of others he had asked, set off a red flag for him, so he pulls them over for inspection. Has them pop the trunk, four AK-47s and a shit ton of ammo. After removing them all from the car, at gunpoint obviously, they found more guns stashed around inside the car.

      But hey, having someone ask you – basically – how your vacation was is such a pointless fascist TSA-Goon (never mind that customs isn’t TSA) asshole ridiculous thing to do! How dare they! /sarcasm

      1. “No, you’re not being a jerk. But from that point on if you treat you server like crap because the kitchen messed up, it makes you an asshole.”

        Yes it does – a righteous, money-paying asshole, and if that’s how you want to play it, that’s your business. However, simply *refraining* from niceties does not an asshole make.

        1. “However, simply *refraining* from niceties does not an asshole make.”

          Yeah….but it does.

          Try it, refrain from niceties for a week. You’ll get called an asshole everywhere you go.

          For example, go to a coffee shop and tell them “I want an XXX coffee.” Don’t say another word; give them their money; don’t smile (that’s being nice); take your coffee and walk out the door; no tip. 10-1 the person who helped you will say or think, what an asshole.

      2. Yeah, but your friend did what he was supposed to do and inspected the car. The border people should have inspected the blogger’s bags and sent him on his way or detained him if they found anything illegal. Eventually that’s what they do.

  15. Is “none of your business” ever NOT confrontational? It’s certainly justified in plenty of situations depending on the context or the provocation, but it’s definitely on the asshole spectrum.

    The law is there to tell us what we’re NOT allowed to do. If there’s nothing on the books to say it’s illegal to refuse the interview, then by definition it’s legal to refuse the interview. That said, no one likes to have their face rubbed in it. This guy could have made his life a lot easier by respectfully asserting his right to refuse any unwarranted additional screening. “None of your business” is just pointlessly provocative.

    Unless provocation WAS the point, in which case maybe he’s taking one for the team. Here we are talking about it. Before this, I didn’t know for sure that I could refuse to answer; now I do.

    Our rights: use ’em or lose ’em.

  16. I’m rather taken aback by the “go along and get along” mindset in this thread.

    This gentleman was asserting his rights as a citizen and refusing to participate in the security theater that now dominates US Airports.

    Would a real terrorist hesitate to lie about his business? Would a real drug smuggler confess to the mounds of cocaine in her bags? Of course not.

    This isn’t about catching criminals or stopping mad bombers, it’s about tracking people and the slow chipping away of civil liberties in the face of “safety” and, for some of you it seems, “convenience”.

    This gent didn’t throw a fit, didn’t raise a racket. He just asserted his rights. And for that he’s the bad guy?

    Think about that. Really hard.

  17. “Welcome to America. How are you doing today?”

    A: “Fine, Thanks.”
    B: “None of your business, you fascist asshole.”

  18. If you travel to the EU, they don’t pull this kind of shit.

    Kind of makes me wonder how America was mislabeled as the “land of the free.”

    1. If by “this kind of shit” you mean asking questions about why you’re traveling and whether you have anything to declare in your bags, customs in the EU absolutely do. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, nor invasive, about the questions this man was asked. He acted like an entitled douche, and was treated that way.

      This is what real-life trolls do. This is what happens to schoolyard bullies when they grow up. They intentionally irritate people and then brag about it for fun.

      1. “This is what real-life trolls do. This is what happens to schoolyard bullies when they grow up. They intentionally irritate people and then brag about it for fun.”

        You are right. Behaving like a real-life-troll-grownup-schoolyard-bully is a right reserved exclusively for people with uniforms, badges, and tasers.

        On the other hand, unarmed citizens should shut their pie holes if they know what’s good for them.

        1. Trust me, I’m not saying that bullying doesn’t go both ways. Lord knows I’ve seen enough of it from TSA goons whose days are complete after making sure nobody’s water gets past security.

          But there’s bullies who use their fake authority and fake badges to force people around, and then there’s guys like this who’re just irritating people for fun, then blogging about it with a smirk. The author seems to have forgotten who the bad guys are. They aren’t the customs lady asking if you were on vacation for business or pleasure, or the guy making sure your luggage hasn’t been tampered with. Making their lives harder on a regular basis (as he admits to) is Being A Dick and Not Helping Things.

          1. Recently I was chosen for a special pat down and full luggage inspection at the airport. I was very cheerful and the TSA folks loved my cigar box guitar I had with me. I played it, I let them play it. One of the TSA guys was an older man who said he used to read Popular Science back when it was a DIY magazine and he loved making things. I gave him a copy of Make and we had a nice chat. I’m sure if I was surly things wouldn’t have been fun at all. And if I saw some other passenger say “none of your business” to the nice TSA guy I would have thought the passenger was an asshole. But that doesn’t mean the asshole should be *detained* for being an asshole, no matter how shadenfreudtastic it would be.

          2. “TSA goons whose days are complete after making sure nobody’s water gets past security”

            Just like those fascist pigs that take your tickets at movie theaters! Those goons never let me bring my water into the theater and I’m forced into paying for their overpriced drinks!

            Not picking on you directly, I just love how everyone uses the water bottle thing as an example of “TSA Goons stomping on our freedom” when plenty of other places/people will stop you from bringing outside drinks in (granted, they are protecting revenue and not some vague never-gonna-happen threat).

            Is there anyone that doesn’t know you can’t bring a big bottle through? Check it in your damn bag or don’t bring it. These things aren’t difficult people.

            Fact is, a lot of the posters here love to hate on ANYONE in an airport that has a uniform on, be they TSA, DHS, etc. It’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. The level of hate these people have heaped on them is mind numbing, as is the fact that it’s ok to make jokes about their level of education; salary; etc. For this crowd, the TSA are the niggers of your time – it’s ok to say they are sub-human; they aren’t real people; they are uneducated; deserve our hatred; deserve our disrespect and shouldn’t dare be uppity when we treat them like shit.

            The poster who mentioned tilting at windmills had it right, there are a lot more injustices that deserve getting up-in-arms over. Being asked – basically – how your vacation was isn’t one of them.

          3. There’s a very big difference between a movie theatre asking you not to bring in a bottle of water (and likely not enforcing said rule) and a TSA agent threatening you with a private full-body search and a possible missed flight if you fail to comply. I agree that the ‘bottle of water’ dead horse is overused; a better example might be their “right” to confine any item they wish on a whim, such as an expensive tool that’s slightly pointy.

            I’m on the same page you are as to choosing your battles, etc. We don’t have to resort to the n-word to be shocking here.

          4. “a better example might be their “right” to confine any item they wish on a whim, such as an expensive tool that’s slightly pointy”

            I agree, I dislike not being able to fly with my multi-tool in my carry-on bag. For some reason the lighter in my pocket is never a problem though, go figure.

            “We don’t have to resort to the n-word to be shocking here.”

            I agree, since I wasn’t trying to be shocking, just making a point.

      2. “customs in the EU absolutely do.”

        EU != US. The Europeans can do whatever they want. This is America, however, which means we don’t drive diesel hatchbacks, we get to own guns, and we don’t have to answer any fucking questions.

        “This is what happens to schoolyard bullies when they grow up.”

        You have it backwards – the bullys go to work for the cops or the TSA, the bullied are the ones who grow up into righteously indignant men like this fellow.

      3. Maybe it depends where you go, but when I’ve been in the EU they asked me *nothing*.

        The airport did not even have a “customs” area where some unfortunate wanna-be cop rifled through my shit-stained underwear.

    2. It was labelled that by Americans, obviously.
      Hypocrisy is unfortunately your biggest export.

      Funny how it was land of the free, home of the slave, for so long.

      (This said, almost every American I’ve ever met personally have been really nice people – and your physical country itself is great).

      I just wish that your politicians would let you actually live by the values you profess to have.

  19. I’m really amazed at how many people think you should just politely cave in to illegal authority wielded by someone with a uniform. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear; is that it?

    I’m sure it’s making the founding fathers roll over in their graves. I guess as a country we really have lost our mission.

  20. Well, maybe she was asking out of shock, for example: “Why on earth would you want to go to a country like the People’s(ahem) Republic of China? Didn’t you hear about the plight of the Tibetan people?” Or some such thing…

    All sarcasm aside however, I have to agree with the detained gentleman. Why SHOULD he have to explain his Cino-proclivities to some silly dork in a silly uniform? Especially to re-enter his own country? China is the banker of the US now… such questions directed at ordinary citizens visiting Beijing are not only completely unnecessary, but humiliating considering what a large economic 8-ball the US is now behind.

    I have traveled throughout Asia and most plane/customs procedures are about as arduous as a bus ride. Only when I go back to my stupid-ass HOMELAND(tm-rolleyes) do I and my lawfully wedded wife have to be questioned for HOURS like common criminals. It’s frankly shameful how the once great American Empire (“nothing to fear but fear itself”) has caved into fear, paranoia, and neurosis.

    To all those folks of the mindset:
    “If you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem?”
    Perhaps you don’t realize it, but you are the problem.

  21. I’m amazed at the hating! I’m applauding!


    I find both the millimeter-wave radar and the feel-me-up/pat-me-down process to be demeaning and unnecessary (and they’re only at some airports! not all!), and I wish I had the guts to refuse them on principle.

    I refuse them each and every time, and I regularly make it through the screening process BEFORE the people immediately behind me! All you have to do is say “I opt out”. These three magic words have a lot of power. Of course, you must then be felt up. Typically, the TSA droid will say ‘would you like a private inspection’, to which I reply ‘You are the one inspecting my private areas in public. As long as you are comfortable, so am I’. My inspection is usually completed within 30 seconds after that.

    I’m just glad this guy tried his experiment on his way home, instead of risking his vacation by trying it on the way out.

    Different power balance. This guy was entering HIS OWN country, not someone else’s.


    Even without security motive, the government arguably has a right and a legitimate interest in gathering basic data on persons entering and leaving the country.

    Arguably — indeed. If they have a right, it must be written somewhere. Undoubtedly they collect quite a bit from the airlines and the passport swipe. Legitimate interest – perhaps, but the burden is on them. They can certainly ASK…

  22. I guess for some people, not being deferential to authority; not accomodating an auhtority’s unnecessary intrusion equeals “being a jerk”.

    Come up to me in the street and ask the same questions as the agents did here and I’ll likely not participate.

    Thes people have NO MORE AUTHORITY in this situation than a random stranger and that’s the guy’s point: where they had authority he co-operated, where they exceeded it, he did not.

    The people criticising him are saying that their ‘authority’ nevertheless means you should comply with their demands, ie. be deferential to authority. Excersising your freedom NOT to, does not make you a jerk, except to the childishly subordinate.

    Deference to authority is a dangerous thing.

  23. He complied with the letter of the law. He proved his U.S. citizenship and provided a written customs declaration.

    Interestingly, at his blog there is a comment by someone who actually went and looked up the laws and rules.

    I found a FAQ on the CBP site about what gives them authority to question citizens.
    They state their right to search and question persons very matter-of-factly, but something tells me it’s not that cut and dry.
    From perusing the document they cite:
    It seems that Immigration officials can ask all the questions they want but must have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to detain you.
    Customs officials can look through your stuff but there is no mention of their right to question you.
    There is this particular nugget at the top of page six:
    “But an officer cannot construe a person’s refusal to be interviewed as sufficient cause to suspect wrongdoing.”
    Odd how that’s not mentioned on their FAQ page.

    As always, “Kiss The Shiny, Shiny Boots Of Leather” is a Lou Reed song, NOT a Federal requirement for Citizen/Public Servant interaction.

    1. “It seems that Immigration officials can ask all the questions they want but must have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to detain you.”

      Refusing to answer their question in such a nasty manner could be seen as reasonable suspicion.

      Compared to say something like

      “you were in China?”
      “And your reason for going to China”
      “it was a personal trip.”

      you haven’t really given out any particular private details but you answered their questions without acting like a 5 year old having a temper tantrum

  24. I think he did good. It’s amazing how quickly you go from feeling like your own man (or woman) to feeling like someone’s subject when you give in to an inappropriate assertion of authority. What he did instead was to point out that that part may be yours, but this part is mine, and I don’t yield it. Good for him.

    I do wish it could be done in a way that didn’t make the officials feel like it was something personal against them. But then again, some of the responses indicated the officials thought he was committing some fault and being a bad actor, so this kind of thing is not going to go smoothly no matter how nice he is.

    I’m sure those officers think they’re good people, fighting the good fight and acting in the best interests of the nation. They probably are good people, but not all of us agree about the best interests of the nation. Not at all.

  25. It does not make you a jerk to tell someone it is none of their business when they start asking intrusive questions about things that are none of their business. And even if it did, being a jerk is perfectly legal.

    What those officers did was unwarranted harassment of a citizen who refused to concede his rights to play along with their security theater. More people should do exactly the same thing he did.

  26. I can empathize with the blogger here; just recently I was given a hard time by CBP because they didn’t think it was reasonable for me to travel to the east coast from north eastern Montana by flying out of Regina.

    It didn’t amount to much of a delay, but it’s pretty frustrating to to be arguing about your travel itinerary with a border agent, when really it’s none of their business or concern.

  27. People here are talking about how he ‘was a jerk’ and ‘could have been nicer’.

    This wasn’t at a cocktail party, this is a matter of law. Does anyone expect prosecutors and judges and congressmen to be ‘nice’?

    Sorry, but he wasn’t acting like a jerk. He was conducting himself in a completely legitimate manner given the circumstances.

    You aren’t being a jerk when your steak arrives cold and you send it back, and there’s no need for please and thank you at that point. The man is a US citizen, who supplied the required documents, and who wished to proceed unmolested and interrogated.

    Is that unreasonable? For a man to curtly exercise his rights in the face of invasive, lying government officials?

    1. I still say please and thank you, even when returning an order. What’s wrong with that? On a societal level, it’s nice. On a selfish level, it makes it more likely for me to get what I want.

      1. Agreed. You shouldn’t be polite because the person asking questions is in a position of authority, you should be polite because that’s how decent human beings conduct themselves with each other.

        That said, it sounds like several people in this story were acting rather jerkishly.

        1. “you should be polite because that’s how decent human beings conduct themselves with each other.”

          Then the man was completely justified; his situation involved just one decent human being, while your edict clearly requires a plural of them.

          1. I generally assume that the people I meet deserve respect until they demonstrate otherwise. From this transcript it sounds like he was the first (though not the last) to crack open a can of jerkass.

          2. “I generally assume that the people I meet deserve respect until they demonstrate otherwise. From this transcript it sounds like he was the first (though not the last) to crack open a can of jerkass.”

            No, the second she asked him what he was doing in China, she became the inciting jerk. His response, “None of your business” is as polite as it is correct. She requested his documents, which he is required to supply, and he complied – that IS her business, and he gave her no guff about that. The man is a private individual maintaining his privacy – that makes him an asshole?

          3. No, the second she asked him what he was doing in China, she became the inciting jerk.

            I ask my fellow passengers questions like that just to pass the time. She didn’t reveal herself as a jerk until he gave a rude response* and she asserted that he was legally compelled to answer.

            *Example polite response: “I’d rather not say.”

          4. Unless you were there to hear the tone you really can’t say that his “none of your business” was polite or not.

        2. I wonder if things would have gone differently if, instead of “none of your business”, he had just said “pleasure.” He wouldn’t be divulging any more information with that statement, but it’s far less confrontational.

          1. He could have given a vague yet correct answer to every one of the questions:

            Q: “Why were you in China?”
            A: “A plane brought me there.”

            Q: “How long have you been in China?”
            A: “From when I arrived until when I left.”

            Q: “Were you there for personal or business reasons?”
            A: “Yes.”

      2. “I still say please and thank you, even when returning an order. What’s wrong with that? On a societal level, it’s nice. On a selfish level, it makes it more likely for me to get what I want.”

        But refusing to do so doesn’t invalidate your demand for a hot steak. Politeness, like respect, is for people who deserve it – otherwise it serves no real purpose.

        1. “Politeness, like respect, is for people who deserve it”

          “his situation involved just one decent human being”

          I think you meant to say that it’s for people who YOU decide deserve it. You know, those people who aren’t beneath you, those that you choose to bestow your ‘respect’ upon. Not those scum that work in airports, those fuckers aren’t real people, they are heartless automatons and it is our DUTY as Hipster Americans to make their jobs as miserable as we can because the internet’s has told us to!!

          Chrst, y’r n sshl.

          1. “Christ, you’re an asshole.”

            That may be so, but it isn’t germane to our discussion.

            Yes, I decide who deserves my respect and consideration and courtesy. The metric I use for determining such things is very simple: “Has this person fucked with me?”, “Is this person fucking with me now?”, “Is this person fucking with other people?”

            If the answers are no, then the individual in question will without exception receive nothing but courtesy and respect from me. If the answers are yes, then they will not. But the default is politeness.

            Being interrogated by someone who has no authority to compel answers and then being detained for refusing to comply with what is, in point of fact, a ‘request’ for information, that puts whoever is doing that on my ‘fucking with me’ list.

          2. “Being interrogated by someone who has no authority to compel answers and then being detained for refusing to comply with what is, in point of fact, a ‘request’ for information, that puts whoever is doing that on my ‘fucking with me’ list.”

            Really? What happened to this guy was being interrogated? I didn’t realize the border agent water-boarded him, then hung him from his wrists and electroshocked him, denied him sleep and beat him regularly until him broke.

            Again, this isn’t some new thing, this has been a normal question upon re-entering this country (and in fact, upon entering a lot of countries) for quite some time. No reason to be a jerk, just give any answer, they don’t really care WHY you were there nor will they remember you ten minutes from now. The whole point is to weed out people who know they were/are doing something wrong and will show it by acting suspicious/nervous/etc.

            Hell, when they ask you could say “Porn Convention” “Healing by Monks” “Vacation” anything. It’s not intruding on your rights. Try pulling this attitude (that this guy did) when entering a ‘less friendly’ country when they ask why you are visiting and see what happens.

            If some little old lady in the airport saw that you were in China and asked “Oh, why were you in China” would you tell her to fuck off? Would she go on your special ‘Fucking with me’ list?

          3. “Hell, when they ask you could say “Porn Convention” “Healing by Monks” “Vacation” anything. It’s not intruding on your rights.”

            Which under some circumstances may constitute perjury. Check your 5th amendment.

            “If some little old lady in the airport saw that you were in China and asked “Oh, why were you in China” would you tell her to fuck off?”

            It depends on if i feel like sharing. A fellow citizen expressing a purely personal interest is a world apart from a government employee asking the same question as a matter of procedure. The little old lady isn’t going to detain me if I decline to answer, nor are there other procedures involving the little old lady that may hinder my travel.

            If a citizen asks me if i’ve ever broken the law, I might answer candidly. If a police officer asks me the same question, I might tell him to fuck off.

            Who is asking and why matter immensely.

          4. And you may want to check the moderation policy:

            “• Please don’t personally insult, bully, threaten, or harass the writers or your fellow commenters. Comments referring to other commenters as “idiots,” “retards,” or the like will be disemvowelled or not published. ”

            “• Please don’t suggest that the victim “had it coming” in a civil liberties/human rights thread unless you have some evidence to support your claim. “

  28. “I am a law-abiding citizen, and, as such, I am the master, and the federal cops are my servants.”

    Hoo boy.

    Answering a simple question is not the same as being deferential to authority.

  29. I’m appalled by the negative reaction in some of the comments.

    The police or the TSA having extra powers “by default” is not an acceptable situation. If, as several said, the state has an interest in knowing these things then there should be a law covering under what circumstances they can detain someone and what questions must be answered. It should be a matter for public debate and lawmaking – not just a “if the police ask for your papers, show them” situation or “if you don’t have anything to hide, what does it matter if they search your car or bags”.

    That essentially allows a bureaucracy to make laws in the form of procedures and hassles and general intimidation.

    This guy is doing good work. If enough people did this (which they won’t, unfortunately, because US border personnel have an intimidating amount of power and leeway), they’d need to either stop asking useless questions, or they’d need to make laws circumscribing exactly what they can ask and what they can do. Either way is a win for a free society.

    1. This points to something that has become much more prevalent: Rule by Regulation, rather than by Legislation.

      The Legislature debatesand passes the Law, but leaves detailed regulation to the body charged with administering that Law – and in technical fields, this make perfect sense, for the experts are the ones who ought to make the Regulations for eg specifying the required thickness of boilerplate, or the required number of bolts in the tails assembly. Or the myriad rules and regs in building codes, etc etc etc.

      After all, politicians are not experts in these technical details.

      But where such Regulations trench upon the personal rights of people, rather than mere technical or administrative Regulation, IMHO the Legislators ought to take a much greater role than they do in specifying what is to go on, and what is or is not to be done, particularly if detainment could arise as a result of non-compliance.

      I guess I’m getting at the distinction between Laws,passed after debate, and mere Rules and Regulations, adopted by decree after the enabling Laws are passed, and what is or is not legitimately covered by each type of “law”: but on the bright side, our societies have been working this one out for quite some time now, especially as input from technical experts has become more and more necessary to our Laws, due to the nature and dangers of our technologies.

  30. The range of possible answers to the passport control officer’s questions includes
    “business,” and “pleasure.”

    At that level, it is totally within the passport control officer’s purview to ask, since it’s relevant to customs declarations, agricultural quarantines, etc.

    There are plenty of horrible glaring problems with our border agents and the legal framework they operate in, but this isn’t one of them.

  31. Okay, I’m gonna get this out in the open:

    A little bit of authoritarianism is essential for the day to day life we enjoy.

    Yes, it’s true. There’s a spectrum between authoritarianism and anarchy, and we’re in the grey. Laws, ALL laws, by their very nature, restrict our freedoms. We accept a number of laws, however, because they protect our way of life and serve the public good. So it’s incumbent on us, the citizens of a functional democracy, to discuss what shade of grey our society is.

    I’m a staunch defender of civil liberties, but this guy was just being a douche when replying “pleasure” or “business” would have sufficed. And the big problem is that when a douche like this guy riles up the authorities unnecessarily, it makes it harder for other people who have genuine claims regarding abuse of authority to get traction. It makes the people who work for authorities bitter about the public, and it makes some of the public at large cynical about anyone who bucks authority.

    Sure, question authority, but use better judgement.

    1. “And the big problem is that when a douche like this guy riles up the authorities unnecessarily”

      “Riles up the authorities”? By refusing to submit to their illegitimate will? God forbid we ‘rile up’ power hungry assholes overstepping their bounds. It wouldn’t be wise to upset them?

      “We accept a number of laws, however, because they protect our way of life and serve the public good.”

      And if we don’t accept a law, what then? Write your congressman? Are you forgetting that rights trump laws?

      We need regulations, sure, but the only laws that matter are these:

      1. Don’t hurt other people

      2. Don’t take their stuff

      …and arguably the second is just a subtype of the first.

      Anything beyond that is generally bullshit, and among said bovine feces is a little something called security theater, which neither “protects our way of life” nor “serves the public good.”

    2. GeekMan:
      I’m a staunch defender of civil liberties, but this guy was just being a douche when replying “pleasure” or “business” would have sufficed.

      In that case I’d like to know why you think they ask the question.

  32. I would have chosen different words but applaud his actions.

    One of the founding concepts for this country was the idea of “checks and balances”, and it shouldn’t apply only to branches of the government. Citizens should feel free to question the government, and I’d even say it’s one of our duties to do so.

    But I wouldn’t be a jerk about it. The person asking the questions is just trying to earn a paycheck, doing what they’re told. Refusing to answer while keeping in mind there’s a person inside the uniform would have been an improvement.

  33. To those who think this gentleman was being rude, would you please post a detailed itinerary of your activities for the last, oh lets say two weeks.

    Obviously you should have no problem providing this information. I’m just doing my job asking this question. No need to concern yourself with what I want it for.

    Just for the record, though, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

    1. What’s your compelling state interest in having that list? Are you doing a customs inspection for drugs? Or are you just a self-righteous asshole?

  34. If you don`t use them, you lose them.

    Exercise your rights as much as your sex muscle and we will end in a wonderful fair world.

  35. Aren’t those guys supposed to be there to serve us and keep us safe? Don’t our taxes pay their salaries? I don’t remember anything in our constitution about being nice or compliant to federal officers. The gentleman stated that he didn’t want to divulge the purpose of his trip in a rather matter of fact manner, nothing more. Anyone that was really trained in threat detection would know that someone that asserts their rights so plainly from the start isn’t doing anything covert and just values his privacy.

    The fact that this guy is branded an asshole for speaking up and letting others know they don’t have to give personal information to strangers is pretty sickening. Personally I put all security officers in the asshole category until they prove otherwise. Taking money in exchange for the act of intimidating your fellow citizens while carrying lethal weapons seems a lot more assholish than whatthis guy did.

  36. I don’t think there’s any way to say “none of your business” without generating conflict and pushback. It’s the first part of a sentence that ends with “and fuck you for asking.” People become ego-involved from that point forward.

    He could instead say “I don’t believe I’m required by law to answer that, so I’m not going to, but I’d be happy to show you my passport again. (And fuck you for asking.)”

    I’d find it almost impossible to smile and be friendly when opposing people with uniforms and guns.

  37. This seems pretty easy to me. Refuse to answer a Chicago cop’s questions and you get the shit beat out of you and arrested.

  38. The fact is that this guy is an American, coming back into America.

    How long can your border guards keep him outside waiting to get back in? Forever?

  39. The argument here seems to be between “he’s a jerk” and “he’s exercising his rights”.

    To me, it sure looks like both.

  40. Wow, am I vastly disappointed in most of the comments. Sounds dumb, but I expected more from the Boing.

    It *IS* none of their business what he was doing in China and he is *NOT* obligated to answer any of their questions. Since when does being [very slightly] rude [and only in the sense that he doesn’t kowtow] indicate that he doesn’t deserve his constitutional rights?

    Dude is spot on – asserting your rights in modern day America = getting hassled by jackasses who lucked into minimum wage jobs where they get to wear a uniform.

    1. The point here isn’t that he asserted his rights. There are ways to do so that aren’t intentionally provocative. This guy clearly wanted to provoke a heated response right off the bat and wanted to prolong it for a nice chewy blog post.

      If he simply wanted to pass through customs without answering questions, he could’ve done so politely and humanely. “I’m sorry, but I’m not obligated to answer that question,” would be fine. “None of your business”? He’s looking for a fight.

  41. But what’s the point of the story? The officials didn’t seem to exceed their authority. Just because you don’t have to answer questions doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to ask. He didn’t cooperate so they performed a legal search on his bags, detained him for half an hour (seems like a reasonable wait to me), and let him go.

    He tried to provoke a violation of his rights, but they didn’t take the bait. Yup, you’ve got the right to provoke border officials. He exercised it. Why should anybody care?

  42. My passages at our mutual border have all been pretty smooth, save one time, when a fellow passenger in the car had been drinking, and when asked the “business or pleasure” question, just smiled drunkenly until the officer asked him again, – and my friend then still continued grinning stupidly in silence – until the guard asked yet again (and I could see she was getting a little ticked off), when he finally seemed to snap to and answered, “What? Oh, pleasure”.
    Of course we were searched thoroughly. By the end of the search we were joking and laughing with the border guards, and then sent on our way.
    The moral: that it’s best to be sober when crossing an international boundary in a vehicle.

  43. Perhaps I missed it, but with everyone asserting completely contradictory positions about the law as it applies to Americans returning to the US from abroad, can someone please put a link in to the actual law that applies here? Enough with the boorish Internet sniping, this isn’t Slashdot, people! I expect better from all of you. I don’t see why all of you don’t want to do this (trolls aside), since it would prove you correct. Of course half of you will be incorrect (well, half of those taking a legal position).

  44. This is what real-life trolls do. This is what happens to schoolyard bullies when they grow up. They intentionally irritate people and then brag about it for fun.

    Real-life troll

      1. Because, of course, Ms. Parks was actually an archangel in human guise, not just a cranky, pissed off woman who didn’t want to give up her seat. And because there weren’t any black people, let alone white people, commenting about how she should have kept her head down and been less uppity.

        If it weren’t for obnoxious troublemakers from Spartacus to the Stonewall drag queens, most of us would be slaves on some patrician’s country estate. Picking a handful of troublemakers and hot-gluing halos to their heads doesn’t do much to encourage regular, non-saintly folks to defend their rights or foment social change.

          1. Do you actually know anyone who’s gone to jail or been murdered for political activity? You’d be surprised what assholes many freedom fighters are when you get them in the drawing room. The obnoxious gene is linked to the social change gene.

          2. I never suggested otherwise. It’s just the “Rosa Parks” comparison is so overused that I can’t help but roll my eyes a bit whenever I hear it now.

          3. They may be assholes, but they are never as big an asshole as the one(s) doing the beating.
            And I do – personally – know a person who has been beaten – indeed, crippled for life – for political activity, and then imprisoned, and finally deported from the country he was working in, by actual factual government thugs – but that did not occur on this continent.

            He is a professor of constitutional law, now.
            And a good one. But he can be very brusque, which is a polite word for being rough and rude in manner – an asshole, in other words.

          4. Do you actually know anyone who’s gone to jail or been murdered for political activity? You’d be surprised what assholes many freedom fighters are when you get them in the drawing room. The obnoxious gene is linked to the social change gene.

            A few years ago I had the pleasure of knowing a Filipino pastor who as a student was an organizer in non-violent protests against Marcos. For this he was imprisoned and tortured for months. He remains one of the kindest, gentlest, smartest people I’ve ever known.

        1. Ok, really? Now we’re comparing this guy to Rosa Parks and civil rights heroes? Jesus.

          The people at Stonewall were beaten by the police. So were the people who sat in at white diners in the South (assuming they were killed by the KKK instead). This guy was taken to a waiting room for 90 minutes. So maybe let’s relax a bit with the adoration.

          1. And, yet, other people are being abused by these authorities. Are you making the argument that it’s morally superior only to kick up a fuss when you’re the one suffering the extremes of abuse? Because I would have a hard time signing on to that. Likewise, there’s not much point in waiting until they’re fisting you in the soundproof booth before you object.

        2. If it weren’t for obnoxious troublemakers from Spartacus to the Stonewall drag queens, most of us would be slaves on some patrician’s country estate.

          “I’m Spartacus!”

          “Yeah, he’s Spartacus! I don’t even know him! I was just sitting here!”

    1. “Real-Life Troll [Rosa Parks]”

      No matter what disagreements we’ve had in the past, Antinous, right now I love you more than I love air conditioning.

  45. Can anyone here (with legal knowledge) verify the claim made that you aren’t legally required to answer the entry questions?
    I’ll defer judgement until I have some idea as to weather or not he actually has the right that he claims, however the point where he refuses to say whether or not he wants to amend his written declaration is silly. You answer yes if you forgot something on the form and no if you didn’t. There is no extra information exchanged there. It’s more like politeness from the officer than interrogation, why refuse to answer?

    1. Whether you legally have to or not, I’m sure the person asking has a form in front of them that requires a response and they will be in trouble if they leave it blank or falsify what you said. Right or wrong, legal or illegal, that wasn’t the time, place, or person to contest it.

      1. I’m sorry, but I think your comment there is bogus – if a government organization makes a rule whereby their employee will get in trouble if they fail to violate your rights, you are not obligated to waive your rights to save the employee from trouble. You have no obligation to make their job easier. It might be nice and friendly of you to do so, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

        In fact, I think it’s important to periodically exercise “forgotten” rights. Not to waive them for the moment, but later write a letter to the violating agency, so you can get a nice form letter back from their PR department, which will settle nothing. To actually exercise them, now, on the spot, which is the only way the agency, through its agents, will be forced to either honour them (a nice institutional reminder), or come right out and violate them blatantly (a nice basis for a lawsuit to obtain a strong decision).

        I agree though that his choice of words was somewhat poor. He could have been a little more polite. But that’s it – he did nothing wrong except choose his wording rather wrongly, a fault for which many here seem to be advocating the appropriate punishment should be to have his constitutional rights revoked.

    2. “Can anyone here (with legal knowledge) verify the claim made that you aren’t legally required to answer the entry questions?”

      5th amendment.

      Because answering the questions serves no purpose other than to possibly incriminate yourself, you cannot be compelled to answer them. You may answer them if you wish, in which case your answers may be used to incriminate you.

      1. “‘Business’. No wait!! I had a little fun, so ‘Pleasure’. But it was company paid, so I guess ‘Business’.”

        That’s very incriminating, I should have plead the 5th.

        1. Whether or not you choose to exercise the 5th is up to you, and if you choose to exercise the 5th, nobody can legitimately criticize you for doing so.

          If you choose not to, then you risk incriminating yourself. Because our system of justice is not perfect, it’s prudent to avoid the risk.

          I’ve declined to have my car searched by an officer who insisted on asking me about 9 times if I had drugs in the car during a stop for expired tags. I politely responded “No, sir”, and he asked if I would mind if he searched my vehicle. I told him I minded very much, and made sure to say the phrase, “I am not granting you permission to search my car”.

          He asked me why I would not grant him permission if, in fact, I did not have ‘anything in the car he should know about’, at which point he was on my ‘fucking with me list’ and he got nothing but attitude and vitriol from there on out.

          He asked, I declined, that should have been the end of it. She asked, HE declined, that should have been the end of it.

      2. Yup, 5th Amendment. This was the legal basis for the Miranda ruling (along with the 6th Amendment right to counsel, giving you the right to have a lawyer present).

  46. I think he’s misconstruing the reasons for customs – isn’t part of customs not just letting you in, but making sure that you’re coming in with legal goods and for legal purposes?

    “I’m coming back from China because I collect child porn and babies’ brains – I’m bringing a whole bunch of them back to sell here in the US. Wait, why are you stopping me, I’m a citizen!”

    I’m not saying the TSA is any great, wonderful enterprise, but in theory they are not just there to hold the door open for you as you walk in, provided you’re a citizen.

  47. Wow, the majority of comments are really surprising. As for Finnish citizens coming back to Finland it is: show passport -> “welcome back, next”,

    Getting interrogated on returning to your own country and people accepting that as norm, wow, I can’t even start to understand that.

  48. I think the comment about tilting at windmills was dead on. Save the confrontation for things that matter.

    Customs officials apparently have to ask the “business or pleasure” question. Certainly the person doing their job at the airport has to and I’m sure it’s a pain in the ass dealing with an endless parade of tired, cranky travelers.

    So, let’s say I want to test my rights as a U.S. citizen. I could ask the person asking the questions if, out of curiosity, I’m required to answer. We could discuss the absurdity of it and he or she may agree that it doesn’t make much difference. I might then take it up with U.S. customs, or the customs supervisor, or whatever. Maybe the form should have a “Refused to answer” selection.

    However, testing the issue by being obstinate with a person who would likely be fired if he or she allowed me to go through without me answering the questions or might be fired if he or she put down an answer I didn’t give, will not prove, or change, anything. And you know they’re being monitored as much or more than you are. It will just involve more people, get the person you are browbeating in trouble, make you mad, make you look like a jerk, and piss off the tired and cranky people in line behind you who want to get out of the damned airport and not listen to you debate constitutional freedoms with a low-level employee.

    Oh, but it might drive traffic to your site if you blog about it and get the story picked up by the web media, so I guess that justifies it.

    Personally, I think it’s fairly remarkable that for the most part we simply ask and don’t verify. “Where you on a business trip?” “Are you carrying anything illegal?” “No?” “Go on through then.”

  49. I recommend the ACLU’s pamphlet “Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement,” available here in several languages: http://www.aclu.org/national-security/know-your-rights-when-encountering-law-enforcement It contains a specific section about your rights at airports, border crossings, and other points of entry.

    I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice (and neither is the ACLU’s pamphlet). Check with an actual lawyer.

    At airports and other points of entry into the US, law enforcement officers have the right to stop, detain, and search you and your bags. Customs officers do have the right to determine whether you may enter or re-enter the US.

    If you are a US citizen, you have the right to have an attorney present for any questioning, and you always have the right to remain silent. The ACLU recommends that you state out loud that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent. (Non-citizens generally do not have the right to remain silent nor the right to an attorney when they are questioned about their immigration status at an airport, although they do generally have those rights when questioned about anything else at an airport.)

    In general the ACLU recommends that you remain calm, polite, and say no more than “I am going to remain silent,” “I want to see a lawyer,” “Am I free to go?” and “Am I under arrest?” If the answer to both of the last questions is “No,” you are being detained. There’s no set standard on how long they may detain you without formally arresting you; it’s a gray area how long is unreasonable.

    So in this case, while the man had the right to say what he did, and had the right to remain silent, it was also legal for the customs officers to detain him. (And while legal, it’s not really recommended to use his phrasing to refuse to answer questions, because realistically it will just piss off the cops.)

    1. Correct, and good information.

      However, as recent things like holy book burnings and hate-groups protesting at funerals have shown, there is a difference between the right to do something and whether it is right to do it.

        1. Correct. I never argued that the freedom be denied, just that sometimes exercising that freedom makes you an asshole.

  50. As someone observed in the comments section of this dude’s bog, the guy is essentially exercising the right of American white men to be dicks.

    Things would’ve gone much differently for him if he was a Muslim wearing traditional garb, for instance. Or black. Or even female.

    Totally a first-world problem.

  51. It amazes me that when someone demonstrates that they have the courage to stand up for their rights, they are called attention whores. Yeah, just fall in line, sheep. Don’t make waves.

    1. Doesn’t take much courage to say “None of your business” to a uniformed customs official at the head of a long line of witnesses. Courage is saying “None of your business” to some bigass dude on the street asking “What’s up, man?”

  52. Unless you are the victim of a crime and are calling police to report it, you shouldn’t ever talk to the police. It’s just a matter of perfectly legal good practice, if you ask me. Anything you can say can be used against you in a court law, but nothing can be used for you – That’s hearsay.

    http://boingboing.net/2008/07/28/law-prof-and-cop-agr.html Cory, this lawyer, and a cop thinks so too :)

  53. 100 comments? This is ridiculous.

    This wasn’t interrogated. He wasn’t detained. His right weren’t infringed upon.

    He refused to answer questions, which is his right, and *he was allowed into the country anyway*. He was delayed, because he refused to answer the questions and was dickish enough about it to be, perhaps, suspicious. But going to a waiting room for an hour and a half is hardly being “detained”, and being asked a question twice is not an “interrogation”.

    The officers were, by this guy’s own account, respectful and professional. They perhaps weren’t trained very well on what to do if someone refuses to answer questions, but that’s about it.

    This guys is a privileged asshole who went out of his way to provoke a response so he could write about his heroic victimhood on his blog. Ugh.

    1. “The officers were, by this guy’s own account, respectful and professional.”

      You mean the officers that lied to him about his obligation to answer, who told him he should complain to Congress, who then detained him for 90 minutes for doing nothing wrong?

      “being asked a question twice is not an “interrogation”.”

      interrogate – pose a series of questions to;

      question – a sentence of inquiry that asks for a reply;

      “They perhaps weren’t trained very well on what to do if someone refuses to answer questions”

      The officers that you called ‘professional’ didn’t know how to handle a situation that can go one of two ways? So a McDonalds employee that doesn’t know what to do if you don’t want fries with that is ‘professional’, just not ‘trained very well on what to do if someone refuses’ fries?

  54. Unless you are the victim of a crime and are calling police to report it, you shouldn’t ever talk to the police. It’s just a matter of perfectly legal good practice, if you ask me. “Anything you say can be used against you in a of court law”, but nothing can be used for you – That’s hearsay.

    http://boingboing.net/2008/07/28/law-prof-and-cop-agr.html Cory, this lawyer, and a cop thinks so too :)

  55. I know I have the right to do what this guy did. But am I EVER gonna do that? No. Because I like getting where I’m going without pissing off people with the authority to ruin my day. I will answer the stupid question. I will, however, provide a stupid answer.

    1. “I know I have the right to do what this guy did. But am I EVER gonna do that? No. Because I like getting where I’m going without pissing off people with the authority to ruin my day.”

      so you choose convenience over liberty – fine, that’s your choice – this man didn’t and shouldn’t be scrutinized for making a different choice than you would have. it’s of no more concern than you having coke and him having pepsi. both are legitimate choices, and nobody is wrong.

  56. imo the correct response to ‘none of your business’ in this situation is ‘OK fine’, or words to that effect. The phrasing of ‘none of your business’ may be slightly rude, but it is quite accurate and to the point, and according to http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RL31826.pdf (top of page 6) it is not the job of to continue to demand an answer.

  57. For the record, the US Customs site (http://www.cbp.gov) has a lot of information, but nothing specific about whether you have to verbally comply with questions. The customs declaration form is that part that is legally binding. Also, the CBP site (and most other government sites now) have an Electronic Reading Room in their FOIA section where you can read documents that have been requester under the FOIA. There are several training manuals and procedural documents there if you don’t have anything else to read.

    And yes, I agree that “Just doing my job” isn’t a great excuse, that you shouldn’t automatically bend over just because someone has to do their job, and that it’s a good thing to question authority periodically, for a sanity check if nothing else. But, while he did the right thing in asking to speak with a supervisor, the fact that he was directly confrontational with the first person likely soured the whole interaction. I know it would for me and in that respect it’s a more human interaction problem than a legal rights issue.

  58. He says “I refuse to be interrogated as a precondition for re-entering my own country.”

    I say “I refuse to answer truthfully to questions I feel are intrusive.”

    Of course I say that to myself, not out loud.

    The questions are silly– is a spy going to say “I was meeting with my superiors in the Chinese intelligence service.” Security theater: these guys are doing busy work to give the appearance of being thorough. His four points at the end are all valid.

  59. Did everyone already forget how different these things were a decade ago? This situation you find yourself in when traveling and elsewhere in your lives is not natural. It’s not something to avert your eyes from.

    This ‘asshole’ here. If everyone who traveled acted this way every time they flew, what would happen? Yes, the industry would come to an immediate, grinding halt and inconvenience everyone. But how long after that would you have to go through this shit?

    It’s disingenuous to say that TSA employees are ‘simply doing their job’. They’re performing specific duties, for money, that they have agreed to do. In advance. There’s no gun to any head facilitating your interrogation.

    Every single person out there, all of you who think that people should comply with unjust demands to save a minute or two on your multi-hour travel time. You are the assholes. You are the jerks.

    You are far more responsible for the vanishing of our rights than the government is or ever could be.


    1. RTFA? Customs official, not TSA. Asked “Business or pleasure?” regarding person’s trip to China.

      To the best of my knowledge, I’ve always been asked that by customs in any country I’ve traveled to, before or after 9/11. I certainly remember answering it in the Netherlands and the UK in the early 90’s and upon my return to the states. When we returned from France post-9/11, we said, “Pleasure” “Nothing to declare” and walked on through to get our bags.

    2. When I returned to the US from a trip to the UK in 1992, I was subjected not only to these questions, but to far more irritating questions by the customs uniform at the airport. I guess the question is, do YOU remember what it was like a decade ago?

      1. The single, anecdotal account of an anonymous commenter is different from what I said.

        My argument is invalid.

  60. This man is no Rosa Parks. She ended up effecting social changes, and with the number of people here taking the official’s side, I’m pretty sure he can’t.

  61. Isn’t there a form to fill out on the plane before you re-enter the US? And doesn’t that ask a bunch of questions? Did he not fill that out either? Honestly, BB brings to light many serious civil liberties struggles. Why this trifle?

    Travtastic. What’s TSA got to do with this?

    1. “Isn’t there a form to fill out on the plane before you re-enter the US? And doesn’t that ask a bunch of questions?”

      Yes, it does – questions that you are, in fact, required to answer.

      “Why were you in China” is a question that you are not required to answer.

      It’s not rocket surgery, dude.

  62. I believe many commenters here may not have actually come into the US and gone through this process, or perhaps only from “safe” countries like western Europe and Canada.

    The advice that you should answer minimally and simply is fine – i.e. business or pleasure, but in most cases you’d say something a little more specific – except in most cases they will ask for more detail if you’re vague, and if you actually answer with more truthful detail your answer may seem to them to contradict your original simplified answer.

    For example, my anecdote is when I said I was visiting “scientific colleagues and friends” as my purpose for visiting Thailand. At this point I was already at the “they’re searching every tiny thing in my luggage and making me miss my connecting flight” stage. I believe I was marked for the additional search because with the original passport checker I was even more vague, and more-or-less politely refused to divulge any detail. I wasn’t rude like this guy and never lied, but they didn’t like my answers.

    Anyway, the guy who was searching my luggage took out one of my cameras, turned it on, and started going through my photos, all without asking. I was about to protest (though perhaps you can understand why I was nervous about doing so) when he asked “who’s the girl”. I had to ask him to show me what he was looking at – on my camera – because there were photos of more than one girl on there (just friends don’t get any ideas) and I had no idea what he might have been looking at.

    Well, it’s my girlfriend, who lives there. “Why didn’t you tell me that’s why you were going there before? Now I think you’re lying to me,” he asked angrily. I decided to just say “ok” but he was even more rude than he was initially (which was quite a lot) after that. The thing is, that specific answer is a subset of my original answer, as she fits into the “scientific colleagues and friends” category I said originally!

    The whole process is outrageous, but most people are also missing that they claim to operate in a sort of no-constitution zone. Same thing at the US-Canada border, or any other border. I don’t believe that’s the legal reality, but that belief of theirs is surely partly where they draw their imaginary power.

    Now, if I didn’t have a connecting flight to catch (which I missed anyway), I would have put up more protest as this guy did. I’m sure people on the internet would have thought I was an asshole if they heard about it. Oh well.

    By the way I’d been to Thailand two previous times, and upon return was more specific about my purpose for traveling (it was scientific research, aka business, those times) and I got through the whole process in less than a minute. Not saying it’s right that they need to know your details, just saying that’s definitely how it works. Completely ridiculous.

  63. As they say, a person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.
    I don’t care what kind of moral victory this guy may think he achieved, he was a jerk about it.

    Yeah, our government and cops and border guards can get a little carried away. Yes, we’re enthralled by post 9/11 security theatre, and the prevailing “if it saves the life of just one child” herd mentality.

    I’d rather have my human rights violated in the USA than in pretty much any other country in the world. Here, I’d at least live to talk about it.

    1. ‘I’d rather have my human rights violated in the USA than in pretty much any other country in the world. Here, I’d at least live to talk about it.’

      Try New Zealand, or maybe even England. Our cops don
      ‘t have guns, and are generally much more polite than the US or Australian cops.

      Also, in terms of customs, the best i’ve experienced is Fiji.

      ‘Bula!’ friendly wave. Stamp passport, big smile. NO questions about what I have in my bags, nothing at all… Gotta love Fiji for that at least.

  64. MadMolecule, drewwill, krische, rexion, Oldboy, Lucifer, etc.

    Jeez, lots of subservient gimps in this thread.

    Bring out the gimps! And don’t complain about me calling you a gimp. Sit down and shut the fuck up. I’m an authority figure so don’t question it, gimps. Kneel, gimps… kneel !

  65. “I am a law-abiding citizen, and, as such, I am the master, and the federal cops are my servants. They would do well to remember that.”

    That should be engraved in bronze and bolted to the wall of every government facility in every country in the world.

  66. Jeez, lots of subservient gimps in this thread.

    I’m not sure which people you’re referring to. There are handful of people arguing that some questioning is legitimate. However, I think the dominant challenge is “whether the blogger is right or wrong, he is diminished by being rude.” If that’s what you’re arguing against, count me among your subservient gimps. There are polite ways to say no and rude ways to say no. “None of your business” is antagonistic. I don’t see how advocating good manners would be subservient. It seems one could be just as assertive about one’s rights with phrases like “no, sir” or “I understand you’re just doing your job, but I’m not required to give any more details.” Someone linked to a civil liberties video on how to decline unreasonable searches by the police: they advocate the same. Standing up for oneself is not incompatible with being polite and sympathetic.

    Being more impolite than necessary not only increases the chance of a bad outcome for the individual, but it makes it harder to use the story to raise popular support (as you can see in this comment thread).

    And now ‘personal moral reasoning’ time. This is outside the scope of rational argument, and that’s probably why I (and those sharing my position) are going to be difficult to sway: There’s no good reason to be rude, and no excuse for aggravating people if there is any other option. It’s just plain wrong. The world is complicated, and it can happen that people are wrong about some things but right about others, or that more than one person in a confrontation can be wrong at the same time. I get that: the blogger’s rights were being threatened, and the authorities handled the bloggers rudeness poorly. But at least on this manners side of things, the blogger was wrong. It reminds me of an argument I had with someone who claimed one of our professors was “justifiably arrogant.” The prof was dissmissive and critical of others but was a brilliant, prize winning researcher. Sorry. There is no such thing as ‘justifiably arrogant’. And while I don’t want to make so strong a claim as there is no such thing as ‘justifiably rude’ or ‘justifiably antagonistic’, I’m comfortable that this situation wasn’t one of those.

  67. Look, we are trying to protect our country from violent attacks. Real violence. Real people dieing. This isn’t a philosophical debate. Isn’t it time to ditch all of the sanctimony concerning our so-called “rights”?

    Isn’t the concept of having individual rights rather arrogant and selfish when they conflict with issues of public safety?

    Would you rather have the right to act like an asshole at the airport or would you rather prevent another 911? You can’t have it both ways..

    If we were to mandate that everyone needs to be implanted with a GPS chip, I think it would go a long way towards improving our security. Also, I think installing surveillance cameras in everyone’s home makes sense because it could cut down on child/spousal abuse, as well as proving invaluable to anti-terrorism investigations.

    I know this may rub some privacy advocates the wrong way, but if you have nothing to hide, none of this will even effect you. Think of the lives we could save by being less uppity over our philosophical attachment to “civil liberties”.

  68. I totally agree with everyone here. When asked why he was in China, why not just make something up like, “Riding goats in the circus” or “Entered a scorpion eating competition”. Honestly, everyone is so uptight about American security. If you just took two seconds to stop and think about what it is they’re asking you to do, it’s not like they’re asking you to hand them the keys to your car or to eat your family dog. Half the time the stuff they ask you is friendly talk anyway. For once try putting yourself in their shoes, would you enjoy sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day, never moving from that one spot, saying the same line over and over again? Just be polite and you’ll be amazed at how much faster the ride through immigration can be.

  69. 1st amendment – they have the right to ask you questions.

    4th amendment – they have the right to reasonably detain you.

    5th amendment – you have the right to not answer their questions.

    It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. They were confused about how to handle it because the vast majority of people don’t exercise their 5th amendment rights. The detention was probably longer than it should have been, but probably won’t be next time, thanks to this guy. A supervisor recognized that he had the right to remain silent and they eventually let him go.

    People should know their 5th amendment rights. I teach 4th grade and I want to teach my kids about it this year. I teach in a low income neighborhood, and I see true crime shows all the time where some 19-year-old poor kid ends up in a police interrogation room and seems to have no idea that he can simply refuse to answer the policeman’s questions. Time and time again, accused people simply volunteer incriminating information that leads to their arrest and conviction.

    Everyone should know that they don’t have to say anything they don’t want to. It’s a fundamental right as sacred as the right to say anything you want to.

  70. The last entry in his blog entry kills me:

    “But that’s a small price to pay to remind these thugs that their powers are limited and restricted.”

    Yeah, way to stick it to the lowest guy on the totem pole. I’m sure you’re act of rebellion sent ripples through the entire security infrastructure. We like to believe that these people are cogs in a machine and something like this acts as a wrench in the works. Unfortunately, they’re all human and instead of jamming up it gets thrown right back in your face. I do admire his beard, though.

  71. The main issue here is simple: either arseholes have rights or no one does, because you can just change the meaning of arsehole to fit your needs. Yes, I wouldn’t act like this arsehole just for the sake of it, but it’s prudent to fight your battles outside of your treasured territory. Better to spend your time protecting trivial things than trying to claw back important rights.

    1. And dick or no, the guy has valid motives.

      After the last 160-odd posts, it’s worth asking which is more important: that one guy may have acted like a dick, or that government agents may by default be claiming powers over citizens which they do not have.

  72. The last time I flew, domestically, a TSA agent asked me the purpose of my trip. I also noticed that the agent was studying my facial expressions. I answered, but was a little taken aback. I assume they do this sort of thing with some regularity even outside of customs checks. This type of question really is a little invasive. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you shouldn’t be guilted into responding because its “nice”. These people aren’t exactly being nice by being all up in your business, and, let’s face it, asking these questions is not making anyone safer. What do they expect as an answer? “Oh, I’m traveling to commit acts of terror, you caught me. It must have been that look on my face, right?” I’m glad the guy in this story refused to cooperate. I wish I had had the prescence of mind to decline to answer.

  73. I am shocked at the level of aggression people are displaying towards someone who is just doing what not only the law allows him to do, but also something that isn’t hurting anyone in the slightest degree.

    This is how a police state works: the people in line behind him tell him to cooperate, stop being an “asshole” and a “douche”, when in fact it’s the officers who are reversing and bending the rules, making travel doubleplusnotpleasant for everyone.

  74. It’s not him who is wasting everybody’s time; it’s the officers trying to poke their nose into everybody else’s business.

  75. The people working in customs are not fascist robots, they are human and humans tend to respond badly to people spontaneously talking to them disrespectfully.

    “Sorry sir, I don’t believe I have to tell you that” has the same standing-up-for-your-rights content as “none of your business” without the kind of sneering arrogance that is going to provoke a response from someone doing a crappy job for crappy wages, and getting nothing but resentment from the people they encounter.

    The trick to civil liberties protest is to be polite and respectful towards the bottom rung guys. Don’t give them a reason to screw with you.

  76. So what if he’s being rude or a douchebag to the immigration guys? I would love to put everyone who is rude to me in detention for an hour or more just because.

    If you’re expecting people to go above and beyond for you, you should be nice. You shouldn’t need to kowtow to just get back in the country.

    Mark Frauenfelder talks above about getting through an inspection by being cheerful and nice. I do the same. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth, though. Feels like shuckin’ and jivin’ to make massa happy.

  77. A white collared rebel. The guy is a jerk, but in the end he is right. The beauty of America is that he is free to be a jerk on his own will. The story is funny to me because the authorities were confused at how to deal with this moron. In effect, when they had to deal with a slight rebellion, the system shut down. It took a certain level of authority to make the others realize this guy wasn’t breaking any rules. He was excersing his American right to freedom of jerkiness. The other thing that I find funny is that the questions they ask are esentially meaningless. Yes they kept a record that he is an ass, but had he answered their questions, there would have been no record of his answers.

  78. Actually, when faced with fascists and assholes, you’d be surprised how much easier things become with a smile and a few polite words, even when your totally disagreeing or not going along with what they want.

    Sure, you can not ‘shuck and jiv’ to make massa happy’, and many do, but that just makes you as big an asshole as them. The decline of politeness to each other is a symptom of the decline of society. When faced with a bull, you can be a matador or another bull – but if your a bull, then both bulls are going to end up with sore heads.

    This guy was rude, but well within his rights. If they have no legal right to ask you something, he has no legal requirement to tell them.

    It has NOTHING to do with him refusing to declare anything. If you read his post, you can see that he provided them WRITTEN notification of what he was carrying. No verbal report is required (although, it can be asked for).

    I have the feeling the most vocal opponents of him are those who wish they had the balls to do the same thing.

    Personally, I would have just responded ‘leisure’ to the question about the purpose of his trip – and if asked what sort of ‘leisure’ I would have just said ‘travelling’.

  79. When returning from abroad to the US I like to go into excruciating detail right from the start.

    Customs agent: “What were you doing in Nicaragua?”

    Me: “I was meeting with union representatives and factory owners as part of my research into social justice, trade relations, and heavy-handed US intervention over the last thirty years. See my hypothesis is that US intervention and para-military action has stifled the growth of freedom and democracy in…”

    Customs agent: “Yeah, yeah, okay, shut up kid. You can go ahead.”

    For the most part these drones don’t care and are looking for smugglers, mules, people bringing in foreign ag material etc.

    And while I do find it slightly annoying to be asked anything as if I were guilty until proven innocent, the reality is that there are people (even *gasp* US citizens) that try to smuggle bad shit into the country every day. I wish there was a better way but in this case acting like a dick isn’t really going to help your cause.

    BTW: The little dialogue above is entirely accurate. And one time while coming back from Colombia of all places they didn’t ask me anything at all, nothing. I could have had severed heads in my duffel or multiple kilos of coke. Strange but true.

  80. From the comments on the original blog:

    “I am saddened by the number of people who think declining to answer questions we are not obliged to answer constitutes being a dick.

    What are you going to say down the line? That’s ok, I wasn’t using my civil liberties anyway?

    Yeah, his choice of words was rude. There can be any number of reasons why a traveller would express him/herself rudely. Aren’t CBP staff trained to not take such stuff personally? Seriously, exercising his right to remain silent rudely gets him this much attitude from CBP and commenters alike?

    Man, Dubya sure did a number on your heads, folks. What happened to the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’? I am gob-smacked.

  81. I’m British and I hate having to go through US Customs. I used to work for AOL so I flew through Dulles a lot. As they were local, when asked why I was in the US answering “I work for AOL” would get a smile and on we’d go. If they griped about AOL sucking, I’d smile and say how we tried to make it not suck. One time the very unpleasant chap at the Border snarled (and I’m not exaggerating), “I didn’t ask you WHO you worked for, I asked you WHAT YOU DO”. I was very shocked to be addressed so aggressively and blurted out my job title – I doubt that he understand what that meant, but my compliance made him happy.

    Returning to the UK, for the natives the procedure is completely painless – you hand over the passport and they wave you through. I guess that’s the case for all EU passport holders. I wonder, do US citizens ever get the same treatment entering the UK as we get being grilled going to the US? I hope not.

    In 2006, a survey awarded the prize of “Least Friendly Country For International Travellers” to the US (http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/US-is-unfriendly-to-visitors-survey/2006/11/21/1163871376458.html). Given that most Americans are hugely welcoming to tourists, the impression of being treated like a criminal at the border must contribute to this.

    1. It’s the same for Norwegians, at least. Glance at my passport, wave me through. (Though we’re not in the EU, we’re in Schengen. ) If I remember my last pass through Heathrow right, it seemed to be much the same over at the “all other nationalities”-side of the hall.

      Same thing in Norway – uninterested glance at your passport, wave through. (I’m not sure why we have what appears to be standard policemen and -women doing it, since they seem to be rather overqualified.)

      1. Last time I returned to Germany from New Zealand via Australia, there wasn’t even a customs officer.

        (Usually there is, though, so it’s displaying the passport and exchanging hellos. Okay, I do take off my hat, so they can check my face.)

    2. UK is particularly bad for grilling non-citizens entering the country. They have more than once insisted that I provide them a reason for travelling that THEY found acceptable. Saying I was tourist when it wasn’t summer tourist season was not acceptable to them. I have heard them demanding to know how much money a young American had.

      I’m glad they don’t do the same to returning citizens.

  82. The time to bitch about security is *after* you’ve passed through it, not *during* it. Shoot the bird at the customs official after you’ve exited customs, got your suitcase, and well on the way to your car.

  83. So now people think that using your constitutional rights makes you a “dick” (more of “dick” than Homeland Security detaining a person without cause and creating a file on them?).

    Personally, I think that abdicating your constitutional rights makes you a “Cheney”.

  84. Were the “this guys a dick” crowd around in the civil rights era?


    They were saying “Why didnt that negro girl just get another bus seat? Theres your rights, then theirs being a bitch….”

    Expand your consciousness people. Jesus.

  85. I’m all for standing up to authority figures who abuse their positions, but after reading this guy’s original blog piece, I’m a tad baffled by why he chose this moment to be a “hero” in this case.

    The customs questions asked were incredibly cursory and pedestrian and this guy seems to really have sought out drama in the interaction.

    To me this is 100% completely different than a “brown skinned” person being questioned for wrapping items around a Pepto-Bismol bottle. That’s a bullshit situation.

    And as a heterosexual white male, I can recount two points in my life (and as an adult) I had cops up in my business for no reason and I spoke up: One time I sat down after being winded from a jog during 4th of July events in NYC and this cop comes up to be and asks me if I need help. Seems kind enough, but I say no. Then it gets weird. She waves over her fellow cop and asks again and then does the “Stay down…” move with her hand when I attempt to get up and meet up with friends across the street. She keeps on shouting “Sir! Sir! Can you talk to us…” and I walked away. And for a good five minutes I expected to be stopped again for no reason. It felt like %@%!%# big brother. I sit on a curb during a public event and cops question me and attempt to keep me down? A white guy doing nothing??!? Good lord….

    The next time some older woman was coming out of a train station and asked a cop for directions. He told her he had no idea. So I did this crazy thing: I gave her the directions! I live in the neighborhood so why not. Next thing you know Officer Krupke is shouting me down while I am talking to an old lady and saying “You know I cannot vouch for what this guy says…” and was in my face about. I start to talk again and he starts shouting again and cutting me off again while I am trying to simply point down the block. Mind you the old woman was black, and eventually walked away while I gave this cop the stink eye. Went into the subway and went on my way.

    Now you can call me an arrogant jerk, but in my two experiences cops went out of their way for no reason to do what exactly and for what reason?

    In the case of this customs questioning, this guy is just self important. You were in China on personal business, packed your own bags and go on. I don’t see how this is a violation of anything.

    Now if he were to try to socially engineer the NYC cops inspecting bags of subway rider, then I would give tat guy respect.

  86. Id´say this breaks down into three parts:

    A. This guy is deliberatly beeing a dick. It is his right to be a dick, though it´s hardly an obligation. Even when dealing with other dicks, it’s still your choice how you will respond.

    B. This guy is beeing a dick in order to blog about it. In other situations, he may be a sweet fellow, or still a dick. Who knows. But at this point, he´s just testing the integrity of the grunts who -lets face it- are hired to ask him these questions.
    And that would actually be a valiant test, because we do need to know if the system works, or just how badly broken it is. Can you still exercise you right to be a dick? What other rights can’t you exercise?

    C. It all falls apart because he’s beeing a dick in such a blatantly contrived way that the people he’s trying to pick a fight with must realize that they are beeing tested. So maybe they treat him extra nicely, or maybe they try make a point of going by the book, or maybe this is still always what happens when you’re exercising your right to be a dick. Who knows?
    You got me all interested and then you lost the answer by going off on tangents.

    Anyway, if your starting point is the assertion that the system IS broken, then this is not the way you fix it back. This is blowing off steam, wich is rather the opposite of genuinly fixing things.

  87. Apparently, the people writing in approving this guy’s stance against the authorities and in protection of their rapidly eroding civil rights do not know what they are talking about.
    The questions being asked upon entering the country for decades.

    I was asked similar questions in 1968 when returning from Mexico; and in 1976 (& 1980) coming back from Canada; and in 1985 when returning from Ireland. If you watch old movies from, these questions occur at every customs scene since talking pictures began. It was a source of hilarity in several episodes of “I Love Lucy” back in the 1950s when the cast visited Europe.

    This is not an erosion of anyone’s rights to privacy. This is some arrogant a$$hat being a prick.

    1. Cheney: “This is some arrogant a$$hat being a prick.”

      The “arrogant a$$hat” had a right not to answer their questions as they confirmed.

      What right did they have to falsely imprison him (or detain if you prefer) and to create a file on him?

  88. A Quote from Hunter S. Thomson:”In a closed society the only crime is getting caught.”
    We’re all guilty until proven guilty.
    Welcome to the fascist Imperial US Empire.

  89. I don’t think I’d want to put up with the hassle of doing this personally, but I am very glad other people do.

    The fact is, most people don’t know their rights and police officers will NOT inform you of them (and will in fact, knowingly lie to you about them). No doubt, various readers here didn’t know you don’t have to answer these questions. At some point, to someone, that might be very valuable information. I see this is as a great reminder to everyone to know what your legal rights are. You never know when such knowledge may come in handy.

    I was arrested and charged with a crime for BS reasons (which, after many court dates and thousands of dollars in legal fees, I was finally cleared of) that stemmed entirely from a police officer lying about statements I’d said while I attempted to be polite, honest, and cooperative. My life was nearly destroyed and it was very scary, and it all could have been avoided if I’d simply exercised my right to remain silent. This would have involved being “an asshole” and “uncooperative” but it would have saved me so much time, money, and stress in the long run.

    I sincerely thought, “I’ve done nothing wrong, I’ll be honest and polite and the officer will recognize that.”

    It doesn’t always work that way.

  90. The blatant stupidity of the US customs routine is unmatched anywhere I´ve been in America, Europe or Asia (except maybe in Britain).

    What pisses me off the most are the nonsense questions, like “are you planning terrorist activities against the US”. Clearly, the only purpose here is to get you used to unthinkingly comply with everything authorities demand.

    Nowhere have I seen the kind of sadistic behaviour that US customs employees exhibit. I´ve seen one of them take bags from a mother of two, who was carrying them for her children, and have her 4 year old children carry them because “everyone is only allowed to carry one bag”.

    And no, I´ve never been asked about my business when coming home to my own country, or travelling anywhere in the EU (except, again, Britain, where they can´t seem to incorporate US bullshit fast enough).

  91. you guys getting up in arms about this. try being a film studio worker and having the joy of being the courier for processed film going from an international location back to a US studio for editing.

    I always have to go through 20 extra steps all because of a need to have my boxes inspected before the checkpoint and then be unopened from then til I get to my final destination. I can’t check them because I can’t risk them being tossed around and being damaged. And when I get to the US yes I will have my luggage opened and the seals on the boxes thoroughly checked and my paperwork triple checked.

    It’s a pain but I would never be a douche to the workers. Its not worth it. I just answer with as few details as possible. And a ton of politeness

  92. It comes down to this simple fact:
    As an American citizen you are under no obligation to participate in your own prosecution. This starts at your first encounter with the officer. The real douchebags are the people who let the CBP socially engineer them into submission. It’s because of them that we have to put up with this crap as routine.

    The business with “did you pack your own bag?” is designed to give them an “in” to do a full-on rectal on the bags. A no is an instant search and a yes that the officer “thinks” sounds suspicious is the same as a no. The oral customs declaration is a similar trick. You carefully went through the written declaration. Why give them an opportunity to trip you up?

  93. It should be noted that Paul Lukacs frequently blogs while he’s in Thailand. It should also be noted that Thai law is very clear on its definition of work: physical labor or mental effort for purposes other than personal maintenance, whether or not for profit. Any activity meeting this definition requires a work permit from Thailand’s Department of Labor.

    Does Mr. Lukacs have such a work permit? Does he similarly flout the laws of China while he’s there? And most importantly is he engaging in any activities while offshore that generate income for him that might previously have escaped the notice of the IRS?

    It must be noted that Mr. Lukacs balked at the initial question of “business or pleasure?” Too often these purported defenders of liberty who righteously wrap themselves in the flag do so not because of any high-minded ideals but because they have something that they want to keep hidden.

  94. So, Anon #201, the gist of your argument is that everyone crossing a border legitimately falls under as much suspicion as someone loitering on a corner in front of a crack house? Did I get it right?

    (Not stipulated that you’re actually right about what a cop may and may not do and where, by the way. IANAL, and I bet you aren’t either.)

  95. I suspect that most of the negative comments are from those who do little international travel. My travel is very frequent – mostly in Asia. To make matters worse, I live on the Canadian border. Most of my family live in Canada and most of our conveniences (groceries, gas, etc.) are on the other side. So, I will say with confidence that I have a fair amount of experience and I absolutely assert that it’s the border officers that are the assholes. They constantly overstep the bounds of reasonable privacy (How could you afford your house? Seriously!!). Why? Well, I know that it has nothing to do with security. I have started to tell them that there are certain (not all) things that are not their business.

    If you want to be a sheep, then be my guest. But, I’m not playing.

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