New York, New York, USA
Director of News and Programming
Award winning journalist Gary Baumgarten hosts the News Talk Online show on He asks critical questions, and invites people from all around the world to talk directly to his newsmaker guests using Paltalk's voice over IP technology. Gary came to Paltalk as director of news and programming from CNN where he was the radio bureau chief and correspondent in New York for a decade, where he covered, among other things, the 9/11 attacks in New York and Hurricane Katrina. He was previously reporter and assistant news director at CBS all news radio station WWJ in Detroit. Prior to that he was managing editor at Detroit Radio News Service and a reporter for the Jackson (MI) Citizen-Patriot, the Detroit News and a number of weekly newspapers. Paltalk is the largest multimedia interactive program on the Internet with more than 4 million unique users. News Talk Online is also syndicated by CRN Digital Talk Radio to cable systems serving an additional 12 million households.


Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 24, 2008 8:18AM

No Border Crossing Privacy

Rate: 14 Flag


Privacy concerns

Now, in addition to being able to scan your laptops when you enter the United States, Customs agents are being permitted to read and even copy your personal documents.

Details of the relaxed regulations are contained in documents procured in a Freedom Of Information Act request filed by the Asian Law Caucus and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The rules, according to the obtained documents, were actually relaxed last summer without public debate.

"For more than 20 years, the government implicitly recognized that reading and copying the letters, diaries, and personal papers of travelers without reason would chill Americans' rights to free speech and free expression," Shirin Sinnar, ALC staff attorney, said in a press release. "But now customs officials can probe into the thoughts and lives of ordinary travelers without any suspicion at all."

In February, ALC and EFF sued the Department of Homeland Security for failing to disclose its policies on searching and questioning travelers at U.S. borders. ALC, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization, received more than two dozen complaints since last year from U.S. travelers, mostly of Muslim, South Asian, or Middle Eastern origin, who said they were grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations when returning to the United States from travels abroad.

The travelers said that CBP agents examined their books, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories, and sometimes made copies of this information.

While it is, of course, important, for Homeland Security to fight terrorism in the United States, the personal and business documents of U.S. citizens ought not become the domain of law enforcement without sufficient reason. And there should be public checks and balances to ensure that abuses don't take place.

The fact that Homeland Security relaxed these rules under the radar, with no announcement nor opportunity for public comment or congressional review makes the decision suspicious.

If, in fact, the ability to read our personal writings and view our photographs was so necessary in the war on terrorism, why did it take until 2007 to change the rules? Why weren't they modified in late 2001 or early 2002 after the September 11 attacks?

When we talk about the "war on terrorism" it is implied that we are trying to protect the nation against attack from those who would, if given the opportunity, change our way of life and take from us the very freedoms we hold so dear. Why would we give up those freedoms, then, ostensibly, to protect them?

Are protecting our freedoms and adhering to the Constitution of the United States and fighting terrorists mutually exclusive? If so, this nation faces a peril far greater than the economic crisis currently at hand.

We'll be discussing this issue on today's News Talk Online on at 5 PM New York time. To join in the conversation CLICK HERE.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I cross the border all the time and have taken to leaving my laptop home.

These kinds of "relaxed" rules are what brought us Abu Graib. It gives a low-level guard a blank check to abuse people.
Interesting to note that "border guard" is the lowest echelon in the federal system for enforcement officers.
I have Canadian friends who are always hassled when they cross the border. How can a strawberry-blond nurse be such a threat?
Gary, all this in addition to the US Army being trained in non lethal crowd control. Now we can be assured that we are spied on 24/7, gleaned for information at border crossings, and 'kept in line' by our own military. Why are we being made secure from our own citizens? Does the govt now fear us? looks that way to me.
While I see merit in the original blog, I wonder when the next attack will take place. I hope never anywhere in the world. If making sure I am not a threat to the US is a necessary evil, personally I can live with it. Now I do not want storm troopers busting down my door and hacking into my e-mail et al. But I do not want to experience another 9-11 or Pearl Harbor and especially its immediate aftermath of war. I have lost a few personal friends in Iraq and I pray for their families. I do not want to experience that ever again.

I have crossed the border nearly 20 times in 2008 and have never had any issues coming into the US. I do get the the rough treatment when going into Canada. I have found that (going through Toronto's Pearson Airport) that you get in line that has the oldest, crustiest looking agent. You get questioned alot less and in a less intimidating manner. Coming back, it is pot luck. The US agents are harder to select. I have applied for NEXUS where you get to by pass all of the interogation. NEXUS is an ATM looking machine that reads the iris of your eyes. No need for declarations and interviews.

This response may never bring comfort to your passionate argument, but keeping America as America gives us all the right and privilege of dissent.
Why are the goons allowed to check your personal electronic devices for copyrighted materials? Servile lap dogs to corporations that they are.

Why do I need a PASSPORT to visit Baja California, a stone's throw away?

How about "fighting fascism" instead of "fighting terrorism"? The real danger resides in Washington D.C., and its face is that of Dick Cheney.
Can you say PGP?

I normally lock files that I don't want people to see if anything ever happened to my laptop.
This is a growing problem. The civil liberty issues are terrifying, and this needs to be tested in the courts, and probably will be before too long. The problem is the the classic test case for these sorts of situations has been when an overly intrusive search finds something like child pornography on a person's computer, and do we really want the other side to frame this as a bunch of liberal wacko's defending some child molester ... however the practical issue is really much greater than that. What if the person traveling is an attorney working on an international case, and the papers and computer files contain privileged information? What if this is the case, plus the opposing party in the case happens to be the US Government? What if the papers or documents constitute business secrets or other confidential information of that nature? I could come up with examples all afternoon.
As for PPP and other encryption technology, current law allows custom's officials to require you to disclose the password to your computer, I don't think it is much of a reach to include encryption keys.
I (sadly) haven't had the opportunity in this century to cross the US border. But if I was going to I wouldn't be taking a laptop with me, or even a palmpilot, blackberry, or overly featured cell phone.

If one left the laptop at home to protect privacy but needed content so they took a thumb drive would that also be searched?
Dorinda, yes a thumb drive could be searched, as could any media storage device like a memory stick in a camera, which could be examined, not just for photographs but also to see if there were other sorts of files hidden on it. Because isn't that just the sort of tricky thing that a all those terrorists would do, and that is supposedly the reason for all these searches in the first place.

Someone mentioned "locking files": I don't think that would go over well.

This is invasion of privacy, period. Allowing this in the "name of homeland stupidity . . . er I mean security" is just another step backward into Nazi germany, just waiting for "Where are your papers?"

Disgusting and pathetic. IF the only way the govt "thinks" it can protect us from terrorist, is to chop away at our freedoms . . . we are in deep shit!
A friend of mine on Flickr has similar tales to tell:
The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

That language is pretty clear. What it means is that, as U.S. citizens, we have the right not to be searched without the government having a reasonable suspicion we have committed a crime. In order to perform the search, a warrant first must be issued, which means that a disinterested third party, a judge, must issue a judgment the search is "warranted" by evidence, presented to the judge.

This is by of responding to mm w, who says

"If making sure I am not a threat to the US is a necessary evil, personally I can live with it. " and "...keeping America as America gives us all the right and privilege of dissent."

Unwarranted searches are not something I can "live with" and keeping "America as America" requires, in my view, adherence to its constitution.