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What it's like to come home to America if your name is "Ahmed"


Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is a respected journalist who holds US citizenship. Every time he returns to his home in New York, he is detained for many hours by the DHS, subjected to humiliating questioning and detention without evidence or charge, because he fits a "profile" that seems to consist entirely of "brown dude with Arabic name who visits the middle east." He recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and found himself detained for hours, despite having been assured that his name had been removed from the DHS's watch-list.

His story of harrowing treatment at JFK airport stands in sharp contrast to his experiences at checkpoints in the middle east, where security risks are much more immediate and more grave. As he points out, America has spent billions creating an aviation security system and system of border checks that have had no material impact on security, but have nonetheless enmiserated, alienated, and harassed millions of people who committed no crime and posed no threat,

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DHS stops NYT reporters at border, lies about it

Two New York Times reporters are suing the DHS, because the agency stopped them and questioned them extensively at the border, typing their answers into a computer, and then later insisted first that they weren't required to search for records, and then that they had no records at all on the men. Cory 14

US border laptop searches: the other warrantless surveillance


Documents released today as a result of the House v. Napolitano settlement document the systematic use of laptop searches at the US border to evade the need to get a warrant to read Americans' email. They way it worked: Homeland Security Investigations has someone they want the goods on, but don't think a judge would grant them a warrant. They put their victim on a travel advisory list, and the next time she crosses the border, the CBP seizes her laptop and phone and whatever other devices she's carrying and they get a copy of all of her data: no warrant required. They used this trick to seize the documents of David House, who worked to raise money and public support for Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), and eventually had to settle a lawsuit brought by House and the ACLU, a condition of which was the release of these documents.

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UK border cops can seize and retain all your data without suspicion or charge


Tim Hardy: "UK border police have the power to seize all your personal data without reasonable suspicion and keep it effectively forever even if you are not charged with or suspected of a crime."

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DHS on border laptop searches: we can't tell you why this is legal, and we won't limit searches to reasonable suspicion

The DHS has responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU asking when and how it decides whose laptop to search at the border. It explained its legal rationale for conducting these searches with a blank page:

On Page 18 of the 52-page document under the section entitled “First Amendment,” several paragraphs are completely blacked out. They simply end with the sentence: “The laptop border searches in the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and [Customs and Border Protection] do not violate travelers’ First Amendment rights as defined by the courts."

More excellence from "the most transparent administration in American history." Also, the DHS rejected claims that it should limit searches to situations where it had reasonable grounds for suspicion, because then they would have to explain their suspicion:

First, commonplace decisions to search electronic devices might be opened to litigation challenging the reasons for the search. In addition to interfering with a carefully constructed border security system, the litigation could directly undermine national security by requiring the government to produce sensitive investigative and national security information to justify some of the most critical searches. Even a policy change entirely unenforceable by courts might be problematic; we have been presented with some noteworthy CBP and ICE success stories based on hard-to-articulate intuitions or hunches based on officer experience and judgment. Under a reasonable suspicion requirement, officers might hesitate to search an individual's device without the presence of articulable factors capable of being formally defended, despite having an intuition or hunch based on experience that justified a search.

Feds say they can search your laptop at the border but won’t say why [Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica]

US Ninth Circuit says forensic laptop searches at the border without suspicion are unconstitional

An en banc (all the 11/20 judges together) decision from the 9th Circuit has affirmed that you have the right to expect that your laptop and other devices will not be forensically examined without suspicion at the US border. It's the first time that a US court has upheld electronic privacy rights at the border, and the court also said that using an encrypted device that can't be casually searched is not grounds for suspicion. The judges also note that the prevalence of cloud computing means that searching at the border gives cops access to servers located all over the world. At TechDirt, Mike Masnick has some great analysis of this welcome turn of events:

The ruling is pretty careful to strike the right balance on the issues. It notes that a cursory review at the border is reasonable:

Officer Alvarado turned on the devices and opened and viewed image files while the Cottermans waited to enter the country. It was, in principle, akin to the search in Seljan, where we concluded that a suspicionless cursory scan of a package in international transit was not unreasonable.

But going deeper raises more questions. Looking stuff over, no problem. Performing a forensic analysis? That goes too far and triggers the 4th Amendment. They note that the location of the search is meaningless to this analysis (the actual search happened 170 miles inside the country after the laptop was sent by border agents to somewhere else for analysis). So it's still a border search, but that border search requires a 4th Amendment analysis, according to the court.

It is the comprehensive and intrusive nature of a forensic examination—not the location of the examination—that is the key factor triggering the requirement of reasonable suspicion here....

Notwithstanding a traveler’s diminished expectation of privacy at the border, the search is still measured against the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement, which considers the nature and scope of the search. Significantly, the Supreme Court has recognized that the “dignity and privacy interests of the person being searched” at the border will on occasion demand “some level of suspicion in the case of highly intrusive searches of the person.” Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152. Likewise, the Court has explained that “some searches of property are so destructive,” “particularly offensive,” or overly intrusive in the manner in which they are carried out as to require particularized suspicion. Id. at 152, 154 n.2, 155–56; Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. at 541. The Court has never defined the precise dimensions of a reasonable border search, instead pointing to the necessity of a case-by-case analysis....

The court is led by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who is a fan of my book Little Brother (which features a scene where DHS officials force a suspect to decrypt his devices, on the grounds that his encryption itself is suspicious), and was kind enough to write me a blurb for the new edition of the book. I'm not saying that Little Brother inspired Kozinski to issue this decision, but I'm delighted to discover that something I've been pushing through fiction since 2008 has made it into law in 2013.

9th Circuit Appeals Court: 4th Amendment Applies At The Border; Also: Password Protected Files Shouldn't Arouse Suspicion

Surfaces - a short story for a thesis on border security

The dilemma of how to reconcile the needs of security with the desire for humanity is the defining question of the twenty-first century.

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Design fiction about cities divided by international borders

Madeline Ashby sez, "The Border Town design studio has been invited to the Detroit Design Festival to exhibit costumes, board games, 3D-printed snowglobes, mixtapes, and other kipple of an awesome nature about cities divided by international borders. I wrote a story scattered over the Internet about the future of border security in Istanbul, and Wednesday I'll open my first art installation where visitors can explore it. Our team has met and exceeded our initial kickstarter request, but we're still looking for funds to take the exhibit elsewhere and to build new prototypes. If you're in Detroit next week, please come say hi!"

Minor diplomatic spat when US customs queries Aussie foreign minister's Vegemite

Kevin Rudd, the Australian foreign minister, reports that customs at New York's JFK airport tried to confiscate his supply of Vegemite, the Australian analogue to Marmite, a dark brown salty paste made from brewer's yeast and the sins of the multitudes, which is counted as a high-grade toast-topping in certain circles.
"Only problem travelling to NY is that they tried to confiscate our Vegemite at the airport. Needed foreign ministerial intervention," Rudd tweeted from New York.

"Airport staff were surprised when I said it is good for you & I ate it for breakfast. They then waved me through," he added.

Vegemite was also a source of disagreement when Julia Gillard made her only visit to the United States as prime minister in March. She and the US president, Barack Obama, visited a high school in Virginia where an 11th grade student asked what Vegemite was.

"It's horrible," Obama exclaimed.

Hands off my Vegemite, Kevin Rudd tells US airport staff

(Image: Vegemite for sale, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from martinhoward's photostream)