DHS Confirms There Will Be More And Greater Intrusiveness During Border Searches

from the welcome-to-America,-land-of-the-heavily-surveilled dept

DHS boss John Kelly continues to push for ultimate government intrusiveness, whether at the borders where the CBP will handle the getting all up in your everything, or at airports, where the TSA will examine the hell out of travelers’ electronics while overlooking explosives, guns, and other more dangerous contraband.

The DHS is no longer perched atop a slippery slope. It’s enthusiastically sliding down it with both hands in the air. The Center for Democracy and Technology asked the DHS the same questions a few legislators have: what are you doing to protect the rights of US citizens at the border? The answer, in the form of a noncommittal letter, is an official shrug of indifference.

Back in March, CDT, along with more than 50 other civil society groups and trade associations, wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly urging that he back away from DHS proposals to use border searches as a tool to collect passwords and other social media information. Today we received a response. Unfortunately, the reply largely ducks our concerns, ignoring the main issues at play and doing little to shed light on the government’s plans or put to rest controversy about its contentious proposal. This non-answer is deeply troubling because it seems to indicate that Customs and Border Protection (CBP, which is a sub agency of DHS) is doing nothing to change course from a recent, dangerous trend: the use of the U.S. border as a tool to conduct broad surveillance.

The letter [PDF] from the DHS explains almost nothing, while assuring CDT all of this is completely above board. But, as Chris Calabrese of CDT points out, we’ve come a long way from physical strip searches. Searches of travelers’ electronic devices are far more intrusive. And yet, the DHS still seems to feel device searches are no different than taking a look in a vehicle’s trunk or opening up a suitcase. Check out the spin job being done here: intrusive device searches are just a team effort on behalf of America and Americans should just be more willing to pitch in.

All items entering the country are subject to inspection, and CBP may seek the traveler’s assistance in presenting his or her effects including electronic devices in a condition that allows inspection of the item and its contents. This inspection may include searching computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones, and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players, and any other electronic or digital devices. In instances where an electronic device, or portions of the content on the device, are locked or password-protected or otherwise not readily available for inspection, CBP may take Iawful measures, as appropriate, to inspect the device and its contents consistent with longstanding authority to perform border searches. These practices are consistent with various laws authorizing searches and detention…

The DHS has reduced “exposing your entire digital life” to “presenting effects.” This isn’t an answer to CDT’s queries. It’s just propaganda.

The DHS also unhelpfully points to a 2009 Privacy Impact Assessment, which covers the search of electronic devices at the border. Again, this does little more than inform readers many of their rights are gone and won’t be coming back. After spending several pages saying DHS/CBP will do all it can to minimize intrusion, protect harvested data/communications, and require badges and such to prevent unlawful access to seized digital goods, the report closes with the sheet handed to travelers when their devices have been taken by CBP officers. It states, in plain English, that CBP officers can perform suspicionless searches of electronics and hope it morphs into a justified search by the time the CBP is done searching them.

CBP will contact you by telephone when the examination of the electronic device(s) is complete, to notify you that you may pick-up the item(s) during regular business hours from the location where the item(s) was detained. If it is impractical for you to pick up the device, CBP can make arrangements to ship the device to you at our expense. CBP may retain documents or information relating to immigration, customs, and other enforcement matters only if such retention is consistent with the privacy and data protection standards of the system in which such information is retained. Otherwise, if there is no probable cause to seize information after review, CBP will not retain any copies.

As Calabrese points out, none of this seems likely to make the nation safer, much less minimize Constitutional violations.

As we told DHS back in March, the practical result is that border crossing will require full digital disclosure – exposing not just our personal information but also the tools we use to bank, communicate, and participate in our digital lives. This will not just infringe on free expression and privacy, but will also expose our personal information to the federal government who has a terrible track record of keeping such information safe. Ironically, it’s unlikely to have any security value, since bad actors conceal their accounts and the government drowns in information from innocent people.

The DHS has no answers. Things will get worse and are unlikely to get better. It’s easy for government power to expand but almost impossible for it to retract. Since terrorism will always exist in one form or another, the government will always be able to justify mission creep and the further diminishment of civil liberties.

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Comments on “DHS Confirms There Will Be More And Greater Intrusiveness During Border Searches”

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aerinai says:

Honeypot Accounts

I’d say that if you have a laptop, setting up a honey pot account for precisely this type of intrusive crap would be a great idea. That way they rifle through just what you want them to and can protect your privacy. Setup a few social media accounts you don’t use as well, just in case they want those as well.

None of this should be necessary, mind you, but in this day in age… gotta do something or you will be put on a secret list and never allowed to travel again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Honeypot Accounts

The more standard technique is to upload all your data somewhere, then wipe the laptop securely and optionally install a fresh OS image. Bring the installation media, and, after crossing the border, reinstall (if you didn’t already, or if the CBP attached anything to the laptop) and re-download your data. Some companies require this when bringing a corporate laptop to the USA.

Of course, by CBP logic, they have the authority to inspect every packet entering and leaving the country, and make the ‘importer’ decrypt it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Honeypot Accounts

Yes, said it myself too. The best way to protect your privacy is to have 2 PCs and 2 smart phones. One PC and phone used for all that piracy, with some accounts and user names and etc. Then use other PC and other phone for all the “legit” stuff and also with other accounts and user names. Whenever they require your stuff or whatever you just hand out the second pair.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: "It's their own fault your honor."

"I told them, repeatedly, that I was a security researcher and that that it would be a really bad idea for them to open up and attempt to copy over any data from my devices your honor, yet despite this they still did so."

"What kind of security researcher are you again?"

"I engage in the study of malicious code and programs your honor, and part of this involves keeping copies of those programs on my system for study and to find ways to fight against them. While I do my best to secure all the malicious code sometimes some of them slip through the cracks, and so when they attempted to make a copy of what was on my device, well…"

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Honeypot Accounts

Unfortunately, lying to a federal agent — and setting up a fake/fraudulent account would probably be considered a lie — is a felony all by itself.

It’s actually more than one felony, since under the current DoJ interpretation of the unauthorized access clause of the CFAA, violating the TOS while using a computerized service constitutes an unauthorized access, which is also a felony.

So if you comply with the ‘request’ for your password, even on a fake account, you have still committed at least one felony and possibly more.

Flatly refusing their ‘request’ is far less illegal, and carries far shorter prison sentences.

Anonymous Coward says:

Police State of America! what the hell was the point of fighting the War of Independence, to get away from the oppression of another country only to substitute it for oppression from our own government, which is even worse? this has absolutely nothing to do with stopping terrorism or catching terrorists and everything to do with knowing, every second, what every person, everywhere, American or not, is doing, saying, reading, writing, going and looking at!! disgraceful! USA has encouraged the same practices elsewhere but kicks off when another country does it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:


Really, do think at this point that "calling your federal senator" is going to do jack shit? Ahahahahahaha! If anything it will get you added to a watch list. The watch list of "citizens who still think they own the place" or "citizens to bump off once we finally pull back the curtain on our new corporatist state."

God, at least try to come up with something convincing for fixing the corrupt system from within. Sitting there and begging those who make money from taking away your rights to not do so isn’t going to work. Nor will your constant insistence that playing by the same laws that are designed to work against you accomplish your goal.

Wake up and smell the shit that you’re up to your eyeballs in. At this point it’s not the politicians that have their head buried in the sand to escape reality, they are perfectly aware of their actions and don’t care, It’s the public that’s in denial. The sooner you admit that problem exists, the sooner this crap can actually start getting fixed.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

When they vacuum up your contacts and emails from your device, they have little ability to judge their credibility. They can’t tell whether a contact actually knows you, let alone has read your email to them. A record will go into the TSA’s database regardless with possible repercussions years later.

Which brings me to my new patent application, “Method for character assassination using border crossing security theatre.”

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you refer to tracking torrent downloads, how is it “a clear invasion of your privacy?” When you download a movie, you’re publishing your IP address and saying “Send the file here!” and by default “Here’s some other parts of the file for you!”

Reading the IP address you sent is no more an invasion of your privacy than reading the post you made above. And with that evidence in hand, in America at least, it’s legal for the copyright enforce to demand the account holder of that IP address.

(Yes, after that it breaks down even without Prenda and Rightscorp style scams. Proving the user is impossible and even proving the account holder at that moment is unreliable.)

Roger Strong (profile) says:

The Long Arm Of The Law

Over a decade ago the US put passport requirements on the Canadian border for Canadians and Americans alike. Now they have their devices searched – by American border officials – at Canadian airports before flying home.

But the US was also worried about Americans visiting a third country from Canada. So it has agreements with Canada and other countries such that any time an American flashes their passport crossing between other countries, the US government is notified.

I’ll be that that digital strip searches of Americans – when crossing between other countries – required by the American government – isn’t too far in the future.

John85851 (profile) says:

When are companies going to stand up to this?

When are companies going to stand up to this kind of search and seizure? Or are they not worried that the government (and its agencies) are collecting data from their employee’s computers? Or have companies not said anything because it hasn’t happened to them yet?

I seem to remember a case a few months ago where a scientist from the Joint Propulsion Lab (JPL) visited some relatives in the Middle East, but then his computer was confiscated by border patrol when returned. And look at all the designs on his computer- he’s obviously a terrorist planning something and he must have falsified his JPL credentials.

In all seriousness, the guy was trying to do some work while on vacation and now border patrol has his computer, which means he can’t do his work *and* the JPL has to get him a new one *and* all of his documents and data are now in the red tape of “we’ll return it eventually”.

Are people not supposed to take their laptops/ pads/ phones with them so they can get some work done?

Ed (profile) says:

Security Theater

On a recent trip, I boarded a flight from Frankfurt International Airport.

After passing through security screening at Frankfurt, I noticed a shop selling nail scissors, clippers, manicure sets, and Swiss Army knives. These were all available to take on board international flights exiting Germany.

I asked the vendor about travel requirements for these items and was told that recent changes to regulations meant that knives with a blade length of under 6cm are now allowed on international flights.

Nice to see some countries toning down the terror-induced hysteria involved in air travel.

On the other hand, it is now quite easy to fly to the USA armed with a few Swiss Army knives. The 9/11 terrorists had carpet cutters. But, after you have hijacked a plane and crashed it into a building somewhere, your phone will be searched.

Winston Smith says:

Dazed and confused

What I do not understand is, what if a traveler has no electronic devices of any kind, but does have paper documents of personal diaries and business related sensitive documents related to propriety business secrets, etc.,, do the border thugs have the right to photocopy everything?

I recall something from elementary school days about being secure from search of personal papers, yada yada.

Personanongrata says:

Re: Dazed and confused

I recall something from elementary school days about being secure from search of personal papers, yada yada.

It’s off to room #101 for a little re-education with Mr. O’brien.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” ~ George Orwell, from his novel 1984

Personanongrata says:

Together We Stand, Divided We Fall

Again, this does little more than inform readers many of their rights are gone and won’t be coming back.

Wrong! Every tyrant in the history of humanity has fallen and the US government is no exception. Yes there may be periods of unpleasantness associated with tyranny but humanity has survived and has always come back stronger (eg Magna Carta, habeas corpus, Bill of Rights, etal).

The only way the criminal entity known as the US government can revoke our rights is if we allow it to happen. Get up off of your knees stand on your feet and demand to be treated as a citizen of the Republic not the governments property.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ~ Frederick Douglass

The moment a government beings to operate outside of the law the unspoken social compact between citizens and government is severed.

A cursory examination of recent human history clearly shows one of the most effective measures that can be employed against tyrants in defense of liberty is the use of peaceful non-violent civil disobedience (eg Mahatma Gandhi independence from UK, Vietnam anti-war protesters and US Civil Rights movement) and education.

When one party to a debate/argument needs to resort to the use of violence said party has lost the debate/argument.

Greater than 65% of the US governments operating revenue is generated via taxes on consumer spending.

Boycott early, boycott often.

Peace through superior deficit spending (an insolvent empire is unable to wage war).

Citizens of the Republic must remember that we have much more in common with each other than we have in difference and must leverage our strength in numbers in order to affect positive change.

In the inspiring words of Anthony Hopkins character, Colonel William Ludlow, from the motion picture Legends of the Fall:

Screw the government!

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