Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Telling us what we already knew

And while everyone is focusing on the NSA's mass-invasion of privacy, the ACLU has uncovered solid proof of what we all knew: the US uses border searches to harass and monitor their domestic political opponents:

The case of David Miranda got a lot of attention around the world after UK authorities were accused of abusing an anti-terrorism law to evade the normal constitutional restrains on police power and question someone because of their political associations. Well, a very similar abuse of power appears to have happened here in the United States.

Today we are releasing new government documents that provide rare insight into how the government uses its powers at the border to search and seize Americans’ electronic devices. The documents, obtained by our client David House as a result of his lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, demonstrate how the government is abusing its border search authority to evade constitutional restrictions on its surveillance powers. (You can see the documents here.)

House got his data back, and forced the US government to destroy all copies (and if you believe they did, I have a white building in Washington to sell you). But as the ACLU points out, US border security searches almost 5,000 digital devices a year, and we have no idea how many of these searches are really for the purposes of customs enforcement, and how many are for political or intelligence purposes.

It also raises the question: is NZ Customs doing this as well? Thanks to research by Thomas Beagle of TechLiberty, we know that they search laptops and other digital media on some pretty shaky legal authority. What's unclear is how often they do this, why, and whether the resulting data is shared with other government agencies (who may be, as in the US, requesting the searches in order to evade the need for a warrant).