Fourth Amendment

Feds Wait For Targets To Travel To Conduct Otherwise Illegal Searches, Documents Reveal


Reason 24/7

Those vast databases the feds maintain can be pretty handy, it turns out. For example, lists of air travelers can be searched for the names of potential targets, so they can be tracked and cornered in situations during which their usual civil liberties protections are reduced to essentially nil. That turns the world into a game of "tag" in which officials wait for people to step off base. That was the case with David House, who made the government's enemies list simply by championing the cause of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. Recently released documents reveal that House's detention and search was no accident, but rather a long-planned opportunity.

From Kim Zetter at Wired:

Federal agents entered the name of a friend of Chelsea Manning into a government watchlist database and waited months for him to leave the country for vacation just so they could nab him when he returned to seize his digital devices, according to documents released this week in a lawsuit.

Even though authorities had already questioned David Maurice House after the arrest of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) in May 2010, House was placed on the watchlist so that authorities could seize his digital media when he returned to the country, under a law that allows warrantless border searches.

The documents indicate House was wanted for questioning in relation to the leak of classified material, even though he had already been questioned. Border agents were ordered to conduct a full secondary screening of him and his bags and to "secure digital media" and "ID all companions" with him.

As the ACLU explained in the case of Abidor v. Napolitano, "Between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, over 6,500 people — nearly 3,000 of them U.S. citizens — were subjected to a search of their electronic devices as they crossed U.S. borders. DHS claims it has the right to conduct these invasive searches whenever it likes, to whomever it likes, and without having any individualized suspicion."

Under pressure from Pascal Abidor's lawsuit and similar cases, the Department of Homeland Security reviewed its border pawing and snooping practices earlier this year and pronounced them just swell. Nevertheless, the DHS subsequently settled a similar lawsuit brought by House. Part of that settlement required the government to release documents detailing his targeting by officials.

What those documents reveal is a deliberate strategy by the government for conducting searches that would be illegal within the United States at the border. "The documents show that an agent with ICE entered House's name into the government TECS database (Treasury Enforcement Communications System) in July 2010. The TECS database is connected to the Advance Passenger Information System, a database of passenger flight manifests."

Once House was targeted, the only way for him to have avoided such a search (and the confiscation of his electronic equipment for 49 days) would have been to remain "on base" and within the borders of the United States.

When crossing the border, we might all consider using TrueCrypt. Or else storing our encrypted data securely in the cloud.

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  1. And they say we won the war on terror. Hah!

    1. Yes, we, the terrorists, won.

    2. We did it in the classic way, by becoming worse than your enemies.

  2. “When crossing the border, we might all consider using TrueCrypt. Or else storing our encrypted data securely in the cloud.”

    The NSA approves of this suggestion

    1. This is why you encrypt it first.

      1. If it makes you feel better.

      2. Storing the data online gives them an infinite amount of time to break any encryption you thought would be protecting your files.

        No security measure can withstand an attack that’s launched with an infinite amount of time available.

        1. Well, so long as it takes them longer to crack than it takes you to die, you’re all right.

          1. With Quantum Computing basically a reality already, that’s highly unlikely.

            More realistically, I give it about 2 years before every method of encryption available to anyone anywhere today is child’s play to crack.

            1. Quantum key distribution might help.

              1. If my quantum key doesn’t work, can I get a quantum mechanic to fix it?

                1. “Well, your Heisenberg compensator is busted, that’ll cost ya.”

                  Actually, instead of a quantum mechanic you’d have to call a quantum locksmith.

            2. QC “may” be able to crack encryption. Most crypto they are talking about being cracked by the NSA is process not math. Storing in the cloud is just the same as storing on your HD…The only difference is in GETTING IT TO THE CLOUD. That needs to be rock solid as well. With your HD…They just take it, copy it, and viola…infinite time to crack per your assertion above.

            3. why truecrypt needs to support super characters…..or whatever they are called. a 12 character password would take trillions upon trillions of years to crack

              going from 128 to 256 per characters is MAGNITUDES more complex

              ANSI II (i want them to support this sooooo badly. Remembering a 9-12 character password is so much better. I can’t possibly remember a good 20 plus one.

      3. With an NSA-approved encryption method. Like those little TSA approved locks we have to put on our luggage.

        1. take the lock apart and switch the pins around ^^

  3. This is what results from people arguing that the Constitution only applies to American citizens and then only on US soil. If you make the Constitution a sometimes thing, the government is going to wait for a timeout to do its evil deeds.

    1. This.

      Its like some people dont know what inalienable means.

    2. “This is what results from people arguing that the Constitution only applies to American citizens and then only on US soil.”

      The Constitution applies to the government; it specifically allows the government certain activities.

    3. “The Constitution is a ‘sometimes’ law.”

      1. i think it is now a 90/10 split.

        The Constitution is used for 90% justify in some sick way why the government can do this and 10% for what rights the people still have.

        notice none of those limit the government or empower the people…we doomed

  4. Here’s what bugs me about what we’re seeing more of: Yes, the search is illegal and questionable, but there’s something underneath all of that which no one is really talking about, at least not directly.

    Agents of the state at all levels perform these extra-constitutional searches– what’s the purpose of the search, illegal or not? Do they really believe that a supporter of Bradley Manning is ferrying secret classified documents or other contraband?

    These searches serve as intimidation. We need to not only question the legality of the searches, but their very purpose, which I admit is more difficult to do. The government has unlimited time and lawyers to make sure the circumstances of the search itself is reasonably or arguably withing legal bounds. But why does the government believe this person is a threat to national security or breaking some law?

    It’s an intimidation search, period.

    1. Yep. The whole point is to let everyone know that if you speak up too loudly, you can be searched and detained. If that fails you can be audited. If that fails they can just follow you around until they see you committing your three felonies a day.

      If they want to get you, they will. And there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it.

      Mark Levin is right. There is no way that the system can be changed through the ballot box. We need to amend the constitution, and do it fast, or liberty will be lost forever.

      1. There is no way that the system can be changed through the ballot box. We need to amend the constitution, and do it fast, or liberty will be lost forever.

        If you can’t do it at the ballot box, there is no way you will ever amend the constitution.

        1. only with a government reset

          Which i obviously don’t support…..

      2. We need to amend the constitution, and do it fast, or liberty will be lost forever.

        It’s far too late to save liberty for our generation.

      3. We need to amend the constitution, and do it fast, or liberty will be lost forever.

        And get rid of this pesky first and second amendments!

    2. Well, of course, Paul. The government is a gang, and how do gangs operate? By making sure you fear them. They do this partly through intimidation.

      At the end of the day, pretty much every person in government knows that they need to get you to respect their authoritah or they lose their power. And they can’t have that.

    3. I’d say it goes beyond intimidation. It is a way to punish people without ever charging or trying them for anything. Police do it all the time in smaller matters too. “You might beat the rap, but you won’t beat the ride” or whatever it is that those fucking psychopaths say.

  5. “Or else storing our encrypted data securely in the cloud.”

    Yes, because then they can access your data whenever they like, so they won’t need to inconvenience you while you’re trying to enjoy your vacation. Always working to serve you better, citizen.

    1. Air gap, baby. Air gap.

  6. To the government, there are only two kinds of people: them and us.

    And, if we didn’t have our heads so far up our asses, we would see it exactly the same way.

  7. If you really had electronic data you wanted to cross the border with your safest bet would probably be to put it on a flash drive and mail it to yourself

    Not that this would prevent them from gettting the data if they really wanted it, but it would at least be more clearly an illegal search for them to go through the mail and download the data.

    It also offers the benefit of your being able to mail it from an anonymous address to a location they would not readily expect to be associated with you

    1. Until TSA and customs start doing cavity searches, you don’t need to mail it. You can cross the border with a shitload of data, as it were.

    2. not really the USPS has the right to search any suspicious package. All they need to do is spill a little oil on it and it qualifies to get a bomb squad to open it and search it for a bomb or NBC weapon. Worked with the USPS and they would regular have to get a bomb squad to open some package….was normally baby powder or a broken lube bottle. Some new guy would report it and shut everything down for several hours. I just past it along and if someone was worried i would sniff it and be like if i don’t die from anthrax in the next hour it is safe. Pussies

    3. also you could just open a hamachi connection from one computer to another and transfer the encrypted file.

      This way it is double encrypted. If it is small use TC and tor and your golden

  8. The Feds have unlimited powers at the border because of the customs laws and the need to stop contraband from entering the country. They don’t have it as a way around Constitutional protections in ordinary criminal cases. This is a total abuse of the border authority. Fuck them.

    1. And using the powers to search electronic devices is bullshit. Borders can’t stop the movement of data in the internet age. I can’t see how that is justified at all by the (supposed) need to prevent contraband entering the country. Unless they are completely stupid, anyone who wants to get data in or out of the country can do so.

    2. nut they can’t stop illegal immigrants…wtf

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