Meanwhile, back in the good old US of A, the land of the free, the home of the brave enough to risk indefinite arrest and torture without charges, customs officials are perfectly within their legal rights to confiscate and indefinitely hold your "electronic devices" such as laptops, cameras and phones, plus all your old-fashioned papers, video tapes, or anything else that has information stored on it. This of course should really surprise no-one, as the US is these days a no-fly zone for anyone appreciative of their liberty. It is a bit surprising that the Department of Homeland Security freely admits to the groundless searches. But I suppose they just have nothing to hide.
This sort of invasion of privacy by the Big Brother goes far beyond the usual searches for dangerous and/or illegal items and substances that the customs have traditionally been doing. Personal data is the extension of the user's own memory, and rifling through it without any reasonable suspicion is a gross invasion of privacy.
Up until now, it's all about your garden variety fascism, of course. The excuses used for the practice promote the matter to the realm of stupidity, however. Of course, the stupidity might be feigned — it's getting really hard to tell these days — but the sheer idiocy of the claims does not diminish even if the claimants are completely aware of the nature of the bullshit they're spouting.
The usual suspects are, of course, terrorists, drug smugglers (yay for digital drugs) and last but not least, copyright infringers. Frankly, if a terrorist is so incompetent as to have digital evidence of their doings on them while traversing the customs, they wouldn't be much of a threat to anyone. Your garden variety music fan / copyright criminal might of course be cavalier enough to carry their forbidden data through, and it is quite likely that you can snag lots of these dangerous criminals this way if you really want to.
Realistically, for now they'll probably crack down more on the profiteering infringers and not the casual pirate — unless, you know, they have some other reason not to like a particular fellow (selective law enforcement for the win). Besides, what would they do with a crapload of file sharers? Ship them to Guantanamo bay, where the government themselves have been routinely violating copyrights? Perhaps the DHS should cut a mutually beneficial deal with the RIAA: for bagging infringers into Gitmo, they'd get off the hook for license fees on their "advanced interrogation".
But I digress. Back to the warrantless search policy. I've saved the best for last, you see. At a Senate hearing on the subject in June, one Larry Cunning-as-a-ham exhibited either his total ignorance of factual reality or his complete contempt for the Senate (not that they don't deserve all the contempt they get, mind you) by defending the policy thusly: "[Not searching electronic devices] would open a vulnerability in our border by providing criminals and terrorists with a means to smuggle child pornography or other dangerous and illegal computer files into the country." [cnet]
Reflect on this for a moment.
Really, think about it.
I mean, sure, if you don't search through the laptops and whatnot, there is a greater chance of somebody bringing this stuff into the US through the customs. But are we forgetting something? I have a feeling we are.
If only there were some customs-proof method for the "dangerous" data to be moved over the border easily and securely...
Oh yeah, I know, there's the fucking Internet! Why don't we just transfer our child porn, strongly encrypted of course, over the Internet and carry a clean laptop through the customs. It's what Bruce Schneier would do.
So, especially now that the policy is widely publicized, any but the most dimwitted real criminal (not talking about the make-believe copyright "criminals") will not carry anything incriminating over the borders, there being much better ways to get the data across. The dimwits can be caught anyway, and the policy is thus quite useless especially considering its societal (and business) costs. (Business, you ask? Businesses don't want the corrupt US government to capture their important data either, and always having to blank your laptop and reretrieve the data over the network does have a slight cost, which adds up over time.)
For his mind-boggling performance in the Senate, I would like to present Mr. Cunningham the Award for the Most Heinously Intellectually Dishonest and/or Plainly Idiotic Use of the Child Porn Excuse of All Time.
Congratulations, Mr. Cunningham. It wasn't easy, but you managed to beat all the other numerous fuckwits and charlatans trying to abuse people's dislike of child porn for their own nefarious purposes. Be proud of a job well done.
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