4.09.2012

u.s. continues to target its own citizens at the border... which is 100 miles wide

This story --
A Montreal university student was detained at the U.S. border, held for several hours, interrogated, had his personal belongings searched and saw his computer confiscated for more than a week.

What caught the authorities’ attention? His doctoral research on Islamic studies, he says.

In a case that has attracted media attention in the U.S., Pascal Abidor has become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the American government – and a poster child for civil-rights advocates defending the right to privacy and due process.

Mr. Abidor, a 28-year-old American and French dual citizen, was returning by train to Brooklyn in May, 2010, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent stopped him at the border in Champlain, N.Y. ...
-- reminded me of my own detention at the border, now 2-1/2 years ago, and the several "secondary inspections" and shorter detentions that followed. I ended up re-reading that post - "the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border - and the discussion that followed. It brought back all my feelings from that day, especially how surreal it seemed, as if I were watching myself from a distance, which I've come to recognize as a response to fear. And yes, my fear, at least for a few moments - my hesitation at entering the interrogation room, how vulnerable and alone I felt.
The older man said, "Come with us." They led me through a door behind the waiting area and opened a door to what I can only describe as an interrogation room: a tiny, bare room, with a desk and three chairs. At this point my heart raced a bit.

This is it. This is the room you've seen and heard about. The little room. I have no ID, no phone, no anything. I'm alone. I'm powerless. I don't wish to sound overly dramatic, but it was unnerving.

I thought, I'm sure glad I'm wearing my white skin and my non-Muslim-sounding last name. I'd hate to be walking in here without those protective devices.

In addition, the only time I have ever sat alone with police in a room like that was the night I was raped. So I felt little triggers flashing in my brain, old triggers but real, and for a split-second I thought I might cry, or faint - not from the present situation, but from August, 1982. I breathed deeply, and it passed.

Most of my brain knew that everything would be fine. Another part knew that having done nothing wrong is no guarantee of anything.
The US's habit of targeting its own citizens at the border is on Glenn Greenwald's radar screen. (See original for links.)
One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

This government abuse has received some recent attention in the context of WikiLeaks. Over the past couple of years, any American remotely associated with that group — or even those who have advocated on behalf of Bradley Manning — have been detained at the airport and had their laptops, cellphones and cameras seized: sometimes for months, sometimes forever. But this practice usually targets people having nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

A 2011 FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that just in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom were American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant. Typifying the target of these invasive searches is Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen and an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student who was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in 2011 when he was stopped at the border, questioned by DHS agents, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges; those DHS agents seized his laptop and returned it 11 days later when, the ACLU explains, “there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.” That’s just one case of thousands, all without any oversight, transparency, legal checks, or any demonstration of wrongdoing.

But the case of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and intrepid journalist, is perhaps the most extreme. In 2004 and 2005, Poitras spent many months in Iraq filming a documentary that, as The New York Times put it in its review, “exposed the emotional toll of occupation on Iraqis and American soldiers alike.” The film, “My Country, My Country,” focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military. At the time Poitras made this film, Iraqi Sunnis formed the core of the anti-American insurgency and she spent substantial time filming and reporting on the epicenter of that resistance. Poitras’ film was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary. . . . [See original for more plus links.]
And of course, the "border", according to the US, is 161 kilometres (100 miles) wide. The ACLU points out that many USians are unaware that this happens, or else believe that it only effects potential illegal immigrants. My guess is the majority of USians still believe that their US citizenship protects them from such mistreatment - a myth that is now completely ridiculous, in light of the NDAA.
Many Americans and Washington policymakers believe that this is a problem confined to the San Diego-Tijuana border or the dusty sands of Arizona or Texas, but these powers stretch far inland across the United States.

To calculate what proportion of the U.S. population is affected by these powers, the ACLU created a map and spreadsheet showing the population and population centers that lie within 100 miles of any “external boundary” of the United States.

The population estimates were calculated by examining the most recent US census numbers for all counties within 100 miles of these borders. Using numbers from the Population Distribution Branch of the US Census Bureau, we were able to estimate both the total number and a state-by-state population breakdown. The custom map was created with help from a map expert at World Sites Atlas.

What we found is that fully TWO-THIRDS of the United States’ population lives within this Constitution-free or Constitution-lite Zone. That’s 197.4 million people who live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.

Nine of the top 10 largest metropolitan areas as determined by the 2000 census, fall within the Constitution-free Zone. (The only exception is #9, Dallas-Fort Worth.) Some states are considered to lie completely within the zone: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The spread of border-search powers inland is part of a broad expansion of border powers with the potential to affect the lives of ordinary Americans who have never left their own country.

It coincides with the development of numerous border technologies, including watch list and database systems such as the Automated Targeting System (ATS) traveler risk assessment program, identity and tracking systems such as electronic (RFID) passports, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and intrusive technological schemes such as the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet) or “virtual border fence” and unmanned aerial vehicles (aka “drone aircraft”).

This illegitimate expansion of the extraordinary powers of agents at the border is also part of a general trend we have seen over the past 8 years of an untrammeled, heedless expansion of police and national security powers without regard to the effect on innocent Americans.

This trend is also typical of the Bush Administration’s dragnet approach to law enforcement and national security. Instead of intelligent, competent, targeted efforts to stop terrorism, illegal immigration, and other crimes, what we have been seeing in area after area is an approach that turns us all into suspects. This approach seeks to sift through the entire U.S. population in the hopes of encountering the rare individual whom the authorities have a legitimate interest in.
I highly recommend the ACLU's Fact Sheet on U.S. "Constitution Free Zone". "U.S. Constitution Free Zone"... an oxymoron?

Thanks to Alex L. and S. Cheung for the stories.

4 comments:

Jere said...

The Miami Marlins front office definitely lies within the Constitution-free zone.

laura k said...

Thanks, Jere. I thought Allan would have written about this by now, but if he's not going to, I guess I will!

Jere said...

By the way, I experienced that 100-mile bullshit last year. Who would have thought, going to see the Red Sox in my own country and never crossing any borders, I'd be stopped on the highway, along with every other car, by the "border" patrol?

anagory said...

Looks like Canada Border Services Agency is targeting anarchists.