Friday, August 01, 2008

It's Official: The Fourth Amendment Does Not Apply to the TSA

It's official! The Transportation Security Administration does not have to follow the backbone of U.S. law (y'know - the Constitution) protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures!

From the Washington Post (writer Ellen Nakashima):

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

. . .

The policies state that officers may "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information." This may take place "absent individualized suspicion."

The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover "all papers and other written documentation," including books, pamphlets and "written materials commonly referred to as 'pocket trash' or 'pocket litter.' "

Reasonable measures must be taken to protect business information and attorney-client privileged material, the policies say, but there is no specific mention of the handling of personal data such as medical and financial records.

So the TSA, which already has more authority than the police (Think: what other organization can detain you without consequence for being belligerent or frustrated?), has the right to violate the U.S. Constitution in the pursuit of evidence which can only be, at best, peripherally related to terrorism (more on that later.)

"They're saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler's laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Notably, he said, the policies "don't establish any criteria for whose computer can be searched."

Customs Deputy Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern said the efforts "do not infringe on Americans' privacy." In a statement submitted to Feingold for a June hearing on the issue, he noted that the executive branch has long had "plenary authority to conduct routine searches and seizures at the border without probable cause or a warrant" to prevent drugs and other contraband from entering the country.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote in an opinion piece published last month in USA Today that "the most dangerous contraband is often contained in laptop computers or other electronic devices." Searches have uncovered "violent jihadist materials" as well as images of child pornography, he wrote.

Who cares? "Violence jihadist materials" aren't in-and-of-themselves illegal (and don't necessarily suggest that the possessor of such materials sympathizes with the positions taken in the material), and the small benefit of catching a few child pornographers here and there hardly justifies a policy permitting arbitrary, unchecked violation of an individual's freedom, as outlined by the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, which I happen to think is pretty great even if my government no longer uses it as the basis for legislation.

Besides, an airport searching you for jihadist materials and child pornography is like the Taco Bell running a criminal background check on my credit card. Sure, it's a convenient place to search, but that doesn't override the rule of law. I know Muslims are bad and all (irony), but it seems counterintuitive to turn ourselves into a police state to fight "terrorism" (and the TSA aren't even police, just maladjusted, angry low-wage earners in pretend police suits (irony - for the most part)). Well, our beloved Presuhdint has been suggesting for some time now that the terrorists hate us because they "hate our freedom". He's apparently committed himself to removing that sticking point between the United States and potential terrorists. After all, leaders have never intentionally or unintentionally used terrorism and foreign foes as justification for suspension of civil rights and national law, right? (Sarcasm). You can tell that I'm angry here because of the long, unreadable sentences and travesties of punctuation.

This all begs the question: What are you going to do with your Dystopian future? I'm looking forward to those little television screens that monitor you in your sleep. All in the name of freedom and the American way, of course.

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