Border Surveillance of Electronics
Customs and Border Protection has been slowly ramping up their illegal searches over the past few years.
As we discussed in January, over 30,000 people had their electronic devices searched without probable cause or a warrant by Customs and Border Protection in 2017. This was a 50% increase from 2016.
I believe anyone on American soil deserves every protection under the Bill of Rights. But even if you think foreigners do not qualify for those protections, that still leaves 6,000 Americans who had their rights against unreasonable search and seizure violated by American Customs Agents in 2017.
Sometimes, it just seems like the government is testing the public’s response. They essentially want to see what they can get away with, and in what way the public fights back.
Of course, the game is rigged in the government’s favor. Your only recourse for a rights violation by the government is to go to the government courts.
But apparently, some judges still have some integrity and a sense of duty. This month on an appeal, the 4th circuit ruled that Border agents need at very least reasonable suspicion in order to search anyone’s electronics–not just Americans.
Unfortunately, the court did not apply the stricter standard of finding probable cause that a crime has been committed, or even acquiring a warrant before having the authority to search electronics.
This is the problem with the government having a monopoly on courts and policing. Violations of rights happen in real time, and there is nothing you can do. There is no guarantee the courts will ever vindicate you, but if they do, it will years later, and narrow in scope.
Roadside Immigration Checkpoints
Last September we talked about a roadside checkpoint in New Hampshire that was meant to catch illegal immigrants–90 miles from the Canadian border. They snagged a few unlucky families from Boston, although the latest reports say that no one was actually charged with illegal immigration. But the local police collaborating with federal officials did arrest a number of people for small amounts of drugs.
The New Hampshire state police and federal agents had drug-sniffing dogs… at the illegal immigration checkpoint.
Now, drug evidence has been thrown out in 16 cases stemming from the checkpoint.
The civil liberties group argued that the state’s Constitution protects citizens from searches including those by drug-sniffing dogs, unless there is “reasonable suspicion” of a crime. The group motioned the court to suppress any evidence obtained during the canine searches…
“As the court ruled, these checkpoints flagrantly violated the New Hampshire Constitution and the fourth Amendment. (Customs and Border Protection) and the (Woodstock Police Department) searched and seized hundreds, if not thousands, of the individuals during the summer tourist season without any reasons to believe that these individuals had committed a crime. This is not how a free society works.”
In addition to ruling prosecutors in these 16 cases can’t submit evidence obtained by drug sniffing dogs in state courts, Judge Rappa also wrote that he believes the checkpoints were unconstitutional because their primary purpose was not the enforcement of immigration violations, but that that it was the “detection and seizure of drugs.”
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court case, Rappa points to legal precedent that the primary purpose of a “motor vehicle checkpoint cannot be the random detection of criminal activity such as drug detection.”
The Common Thread
Immigration and terrorism are used as an excuse to violate your rights.
In these particular cases, the court system hit back. But the victories are narrow. The next ruling could go the opposite way, or these could be overturned.
And of course, the policing agencies might just ignore the ruling, and keep violating rights at checkpoints and searching electronics at the border. After all, it will take months if not years for their victims to have any recourse. No individuals will be punished for violating citizens’ rights. Their agencies certainly won’t be defunded.
The main problem is that Americans have sold their freedom for the ruse of security.
A runaway police state is a much bigger threat to any random American than an illegal immigrant or a terrorist.
The government may use them as an excuse, but you are the real target of their surveillance and their intimidation.
And the fact that drugs were the worst crime uncovered by the checkpoint, and the target of many electronics searches makes it even worse.
To stop the advance of the police state, we cannot rely on the courts. We need to reject anti-immigration fear mongering, reject terrorism fear-mongering, and reject drug war propaganda. Terrorists, immigrants, and drugs are a far smaller threat than the police state we invite in to stop them.