Homeland Security Relies On Secrecy To Violate People's Rights And Humiliate Them At The Border

from the disappointing dept

Back in September, we wrote about the horrific and depressing story from On the Media about how one of its producers, Sarah Abdurrahman (a US citizen) along with her family and friends (all US citizens) were detained at the Canadian US border. The story involved all of them being detained under horrible conditions, with no one explaining anything to them. Their electronic devices were taken and searched. Some of them were physically searched multiple times. Perhaps the most horrific was that one guy was detained for longer while his family was told they could leave. When the guy's wife asked where her husband was, she was told that "an agency" was coming to "pick him up," implying that it was some sort of federal agency. It turned out that the guy had an unpaid ticket from seven years ago for a crooked license plate, and the Michigan State Police were called.

This past week, OTM spent its entire show looking at Homeland Security's secrecy at the border, kicking it off with replaying the original story by Abdurrahman. When I realized they were doing a full hour on the issue, I immediately figured that it would finally include some sort of explanation or some sort of response from DHS. But here's the depressing thing: months have gone by and DHS seems to simply be reveling in the fact that what it does at the border can be a black box, and it doesn't think it needs to answer to anyone. All of the attempts to find out about DHS's policies and how and why it treats people (especially American citizens) this way have resulted in dead ends. Even the few attempts by Congress to find out what's happening have gone nowhere.

The episode is actually quite depressing, because it appears that DHS has learned that as long as it keeps its collective mouths shut and with what appears to be no oversight, no one can find out about its policies or activities, and that allows it to act with impunity, to attack and humiliate people, to violate their rights, to leave people with lasting mental scars, often requiring therapy, and to never have to answer for any of it. As Trevor Timm, at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, notes, the number of stories of DHS using this process to intimidate American journalists is positively scary -- but at least journalists have an outlet for speaking out about it. An unknown number of others face equal or possibly worth treatment and there's absolutely no recourse at all.

Yes, some will say, that there are people out there who seek to attack the US. And, as such, Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers have a big responsibility. But abusing that authority to create such a horrific results at the border clearly does more harm than good. On The Media is still asking people to use their "Shed Light on DHS tool" to demand Congress do something about this, and we highly encourage you to make use of it. It makes it easy to call your representative and raise these issues with them. If enough people call, perhaps Congress will finally stop abdicating its responsibility and start looking into DHS' abusive practices at the border. To make it even easier, we'll embed the tool below. Go test it out.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: border patrol, cbp, customs, dhs, search

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2014 @ 3:45am


    My five year plan has is being reworked for 2 years.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.