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 Paltalk.com at 5 PM New York time. To join in the conversation CLICK HERE