Police Abuse

Border Agents Harassed My Family, Forced Me to Delete Recording, 'Because'

Welcome home!


Border port of entry

Our trip to Quebec was lovely, thanks. Returning to the U.S., not so much.

At the Jackman, Maine, border crossing into the United States, I get interrogated about what I have in my car. And not just the three juicy Canada-bought clementines, either.

"What is your relation to these children?" brusquely demands the young border guard who examines my two daughters' passports and my own.

They do have their mother's last name, and they do look somewhat Asian. I'm white. Maybe he's curious. So I don't give him any lip.

"I'm their dad."

"Where is their mother?"

"At home, I guess."

"Do you have a letter with her permission for you to travel with them?"


"I wasn't aware that I needed any such thing," I say. "Are you telling me I do?"

He clearly doesn't appreciate even that tiny bit of pushback.

"Never mind. Follow me into lane one, please. We're going to have to search your vehicle. Please give me your driver's license."

I hand it to him, then park the car in the area he indicates.

"Now please get out of the car and follow me inside."

I grab my iPhone off the dash, hit the record button, and tell him politely: "For my protection, officer, I'm now recording what's happening." He stays silent. I step out of the car, and without warning, he physically attacks—that is, he wrestles the phone from my hand, twisting my arm in the process. I'm stunned.

"Officer, I do not give you permission to take my phone."

"I don't need your permission!" he barks. "Get inside and sit on the bench. With your kids."

He disappears. With my phone.

Inside the building, I ultimately get a lecture from two other border patrol officers—friendlier, but not by much—about why recording is not allowed.

"If you upload it or share it in any way, people are going to know what kinds of questions we ask," one of them says.

That makes no sense, I say. "As a journalist, I can tell the world, in writing, what questions you ask. In the U.S., anyone has that right. That's certainly not against the law. What's the difference between that and recording the conversation?"

A moment's hesitation.

"Officer safety and security."

I consider it. Might be fun to turn the tables for a moment, and use the argument of the typical surveillance enthusiast against them.

"If you all behave professionally, I believe you have nothing to worry about, and I don't see why being recorded should faze you."

'Officer safety' strike me as a nonsense. They're all wearing name tags. I could identify them in writing, in public, and that wouldn't be an intolerable affront against safety and security. Why would a voice recording be any different?

Now, to my surprise, my oldest daughter pipes up, in her sweetest voice. She's 11.

"Why are you telling my dad this?"

I stare at her, wondering if, for her own good, I should tell her to zip it.

The answer from one of the guards is unexpected: "Because!"

What in the world? Who's the child here?

My daughter doesn't hesitate. In a soft but clear voice, she tells the two uniformed men, "'Because' is not a reason."

Holy crap. I am suddenly swelling with pride. But take it easy, kid, I think—this is not your fight. I gesture to her that it's all right. She sits back down on the bench.

Then I fill out a customs declaration, as requested, and am resigned to letting my car get searched…for no reason that I'm aware of, unless it is that, ten minutes earlier, I hadn't smiled ingratiatingly enough.

But the guys now have other plans.

"We'll need you to delete from your phone what you just recorded."

I think about it. Is this leverage, maybe? "If I do, are we free to go?" I ask.

Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

They retrieve my phone.

I take a chance and delete the recording while one of the officers watches closely. I figure that if I ever need to retrieve the footage, I'll find a software expert who knows how.

To his credit, the officer wasn't lying. I promptly get our passports and my driver's license back.

"Welcome home," he says, perhaps brightening at the prospect that I will soon be out of his life. The feeling is mutual.

My daughters and I roll away, in our unsearched car—having ultimately posed no greater threat to the United States than the unthinking importation of three clementines, contraband that the border patrol professionals have bravely confiscated and discarded.

I'm sure they'll rest easy tonight, and so can you.

NEXT: Poll: Obama Staffers Are Incompetent Stewards of Government

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  1. “Hey, stop there! Are you here illegally? Yes? Ok, we’re going to put you on plane and fly you somewhere in the country. No, you’re a citizen? Well, in that case, we’re going to give you hell.”

    1. “Are you a citizen?”

      “I don’t answer questions.”

      “Pull into secondary”

      “No thanks. Am I being detained?”

      Wait. wait. wait. They will get uncomfortable.

      “we need to know if you are a citizen”

      “Do you suspect me of committing a crime or being the the act of committing a crime?”

      “I have reasonable suspicion, you are acting suspicious”

      “Name the statute. Name the offense. Misdemeanor or felony? Am I free to go?”

      Then carry on. You win.

      1. dogs get shot for less.

  2. Officer safety


    1. I just had a flashback to an elementary-school visit from Officer Friendly.


  3. Sure, you can write about the encounter, but by deleting the video evidence, the Customs people are able to deny your account. With a video to back you up, there’s no way they’d be able to do that.

    That’s what officer safety means in this context.

    1. That’s what officer safety job security means in this context.

  4. This is just further proof of our anti-authority confirmation bias. For a magazine called Reason….

    /god I hate authoritarian bootlickers and fuck those Border Patrol Agents

  5. The answer from one of the guards is unexpected: “Because!”

    That really shouldn’t be unexpected at this point.

    Also I think we should put the National Guard on the borders. They would be more secure, and treat people much better.

    1. “Because” is just another way of saying FYTW.

  6. Jeez, they can’t even be bothered to say “Because fuck you that’s why!” in full anymore

    1. Budget cuts.

      1. Because. There’s nothing left to cut.

  7. Hidden cameras. Everywhere. Uploading live. Fuck these assholes.

  8. Guy should have never agreed to delete the recording. They would have had to let him go anyway, because there was no reason to detain him.

  9. I wonder if anyone has developed an app yet that creates a double recording. One would remain in your “open” folder of videos and the double would automatically be saved in any of the number of awesome secure privacy apps that are available. Then, when strong-armed to delete the recording, you can use the one in your “open” folder for your leverage, go on your merry way and, once safely ensconced in your home away from M-4 toting ninjas, upload the double to the interwebs.

    1. There are a number of apps that will automatically upload your video as soon as you hit the stop button.

      1. I would guess that even a whiff of this would cause signal jammers to be added to the Border Patrol’s kit.

      2. See the following web site: https://reason.com/archives/201…..d-the-cops … Which I will now excerpt from: “Qik and UStream, two services available for both the iPhone and Android phones, allow instant online video streaming and archiving. Once you stop recording, the video is instantly saved online. Both services also allow you to send out a mass email or notice to your Twitter followers when you have posted a new video from your phone. Not only will your video of police misconduct be preserved, but so will the video of the police officer illegally confiscating your phone (assuming you continue recording until that point).”

        1. Also Dropbox can be configured to do this.

          The problem is, a video or even an audio recording can be pretty large. When you’re at a checkpoint, it’s likely that the mobile data rate will be pretty low. It will take a while to get the video uploaded, and by then they have deleted it if you let them.

          I really like Catatafish’s idea. Just immediately copy the file locally to a location that is not obvious to the agents. Then, let them delete while you get to say to yourself, “Fuck you!” over and over.

          Somebody needs to get on with writing that app.

          1. It has been a few ayers since I have been to Jackman (I live in the same county) but I don’t recall getting much of a signal. I think the multiple cameras/app that saves the recording separately may be more useful.

    2. safely ensconced in your home away from M-4 toting ninjas

      Ha ha! You’re new around here, aren’t you?

    3. No need to double up the recording.

      Unless the delete is done securely (or for a solid state drive, a trim command), the data is left intact.

      So as soon as the goon squad lets you go, you open the file recovery software which resets that flag.

      Time is critical though. If the data is overwritten by new files, or if a trim command is executed the data is unrecoverable.

      ymmv depending on the type of mobile device you have.
      Those with SD cards are the easiest since you just stop using the phone.

      1. Or just have the file auto nautically back up to the Cloud.

        1. Automatically. God Dammit .

          1. “nautically” sounded much cooler. I picture a brigantine, loaded to the waterline with a hold bursting with bits, bytes, and sd cards full of video…….sailing, with the topsail bulging in the wind, toward a safe port in libertistan.

        2. AutoNautilus, the latest in automated Cloud upload apps.

        3. I’ve found mobile video uploading to be fairly unreliable, even with 4G.

  10. When I through about 11 countries in Europe a few years ago — post 9/11 and pre-Obama — I was never met with any grief by any customs officer. To the France’s credit, the guy barely looked at me as he rubber stamped my passport.

    Now on my return flight home, as soon as we entered US airspace, the loudspeaker starting rattling off all the serious rules and regulations about entering the country. I was seriously concerned that the little Swiss Army knife I had bought in Switzerland would get me in trouble. And then when I got to the US airport, I was met with a thirty-something sullen-faced cop who asked me a ton of questions about “why I was in Europe” and “why I was there so long.” The difference in how I was treated by American leo versus European leos was startling. I seriously felt a spiritual oppression when returning home as if there was a cloud of darkness hovering over the US.

    1. I seriously felt a spiritual oppression when returning home as if there was a cloud of darkness hovering over the US.

      Welcome to Mordor.

    2. There is a cloud of darkness. It’s called the Obama administration.

    3. I did a similar trip 10 years ago. Didn’t have too much trouble. I got rousted out of bed on a train in the middle of the night so a german soldier could check our passports. When I entered england the lady I talked to was the rudest person I met in my entire trip. Actually I had several such incidents in England. No trouble upon entering the US other than I cracked when they asked me if I had any alchohol and they confiscated it (I wasn’t 21 yet).

      1. In 2000, I had a 14 hour layover in Gatwick (London’s other airport). So I fell asleep sitting in a chair in a common area near the vendors. I was awakened by three guards armed with sub machine guns. They weren’t nasty but I wasn’t sure positioning themselves to fire on me was really necessary.

  11. I wonder if that recording is still on the cloud, or otherwise recoverable from his device. If it was me, I’d be asking around.

  12. Rogier van Bakel @rogiervanbakel,

    Next time, bring back a couple Central American Undocumenteds (Illegals) & get a warm welcome instead, plus bennies!

  13. I lived in West Berlin for a couple of years back in the early ’70’s. I regularly passed through the Soviet checkpoints between Berlin, East Germany, and West Germany, and went through Checkpoint Charlie a couple of times. I remember thinking how fortunate we were as Americans that we didn’t live under an oppressive Police State, where checkpoints and attack dogs and militarized police weren’t the order of the day. It was a time when American police officers were still “Peace Officers”, and were more interested in public safety than enforcing nonsensical laws and making arrests. I reflect back and realize that we have become them. We beat them, and then we became them.

    1. I traveled into East Berlin in the 70s, as well, and into Moscow in the late 80s, and I can say that the they were the toughest entries I have ever experienced, but the US and the UK were never as easy as the rest of the EU, even back in the 70s.

      And now the EU is getting tough with Americans who they suspect have overstayed their Schengen allowance. We used to live in France, and every time we left, they asked us for our residency cards.

      And, the last time we left thru Asmsterdam, they asked for the passports for our CATS!

    2. One critical difference with Checkpoint Charlie is that the guards were also tasked with keeping people in, lest the proles escape their communist paradise. When our militarized border patrol does the same to keep us from fleeing to Canada or Mexico, we’ll know we’re well and truly fucked.

      1. It’s coming:

  14. “Do you have a letter with her permission for you to travel with them?”

    “Never mind. Follow me into lane one, please. We’re going to have to search your vehicle. Please give me your driver’s license.”

    Here’s the thing, for a parent to travel with his or her children, you need a notarized(!) permission letter signed by the other parent. (Not that there is any US law requiring this, the State Department just decided to pull this out of its ass and no one has challenged it yet because CHILDREN!)

    Yet presumably, this soi-disant protection against international child abduction was poo-pooed away by a cop who was too fucking lazy to be bothered checking if Mr. van Bakel’s wife actually gave her consent for them to travel. (I’m sure she did.) So, what justification is there for this (and most other aspects of security theater) at all?

    1. Alas, in this case, the citizen was _returning_ his US citizen children to the US. As far as I can tell, even the US State Department doesn’t have a rule against this.

      1. All I can say is from my experience is that when I visited my folks with my then infant daughter, who is a citizen but was born in Bangkok, I was advised to carry such a letter.

      2. he said the children didn’t look the same race as him, so maybe he was smuggling them into the US to be used as prostitutes

  15. I realized I still haven’t put an app on my phone to upload any video to a safer location. What’s the commentariat’s recommendation?

    1. I have ACLU-NJ Police Tape on my Android phone. It has video and audio only options.

      That said, the last time I was pulled over I completely forgot about it.

    2. Google+ is probably the easiest for photos/video since it automatically backs up your videos.

      I also use BitTorrent Sync since it allows for monitoring the entire SD card and not just pictures/video.

      You still want to ensure that you have file recovery software on the device itself in case the file is deleted before the upload completes.

    3. The problem with cloud backup is that it can take a while, especially at checkpoints where the data rate is probably low.

      You need to make a local copy or have recovery software, which I don’t know about.

  16. It’s all very logical. Now that they’ve got our southern border secured, they’re concentrating on the remaining weak points: the northern border, and airports.

  17. I was traveling on a Harley during bike week in northern New Hampshire (Laconia in June-wonderful!!) going south on Rt. 93, just north of the White Mountains and was pulled over in a border patrol traffic stop. They were pulling over everyone, checking IDs etc. They were friendly, even apologetic about the inconvenience and let us go after a quick check of drivers licenses and registration. (Luckily it was early in the day, before I was really hammered)

    1. If a hundred bikers on Harley’s showed up at the border at the same time you bet they would be on their best behavior. Hard to bully a bunch of bikers who outnumber you 20-1.

      1. You wouldn’t be implying they’re a bunch of gutless cowards would you? For shame!

        1. Well, it sounds like the bikers complied with their IDs like good little slaves. No need for them to get too tough.

    2. northern New Hampshire (Laconia in June-wonderful!!)

      Lakes region isn’t northern NH. Co?s County or GTFO.

      1. HM just wanted to use his umlaut and his fancy phonemes…

        (OK, I’m teasing. As a matter of geography, he’s actually correct.)

  18. I’ve stumbled across a dozen stories like this in the last few months and had the same experience last year at a lazy border crossing in Montana. It was professional and courteous entering British Columbia but got a rude, aggressive US agent later that day who talked at us like we were returning with a hundred pounds of dope and a trunkful of Hondurans.

    Besides the common theme of authoritarian behavior in these stories is they never mess with Canadians; only fellow Americans. Welcome home, indeed!

    1. This was my experience, too. Going into Canada was (relatively) fine; returning to the US, I got some rude/nasty/intimidating bullshit.

      1. Driving to Canada is okay, but the Canuck immigration officers are a bitch when you fly there. In my experience, the Israelis are even more inquisitive, but the Canucks are more rude.

        I’ve entered the US about fifty times and have only had one bad experience … taken in the back room, frisked, had suitcase searched. Cocksuckers even threatened to confiscate my money and contract completion bonus check. I didn’t know that a check drawn on a US bank counted in the declaration limit.

        1. It doesn’t.

    2. That was my experience crossing into Alberta near Glacier NP.

      The Canadian guys were businesslike, but maintained a welcoming demeanor.

      Getting back, the US Agent just wasn’t very friendly at all.
      He seemed a lot more interested in where I lived and what kind of work I did than why I went to Canada.

      2008 so no passport needed, just a photo-id and a birth certificate which he didn’t even look at.

  19. Border Agents Harassed My Family, Forced Me to Delete Recording, ‘Because’

    …Fuck You, That’s Why.

  20. I have semi-regularly had to go through the Sarita checkpoint in south Texas for the last 12 years.

    Every since I’ve had a smartphone, I start it recording audio and then just leave it lying there in the center console the entire time. Nothing has ever happened to me other than the guy asking if I and my family are citizens. It probably helps that we are a while nuclear family in a minivan.

    I have always had a fantasy about not answering questions or very obviously video recording them. But, I’m always with the wife and kids and she says absolutely not. The kids are older now and they kind of like the idea, so who knows…

    One other thing – over the years we’ve noticed a huge build-up of cameras and other sensors on racks on both the south and north bound lanes. I’m talking about a dozen or more cameras on each side of the road. Next time we go through there, I’ll get the family to stick their tongues out or make other faces as we go by. The kids are starting to get the idea that not all authority needs to be respected.

  21. I went to visit Montr?al this 4th of July weekend because, I thought to myself, I really dislike the incessant red-white-and-blue-everything and the puerile fascination with fireworks. Every year the same as the last.

    My experience was a lot like Rogier’s except for the part where they detain him and family for further questioning. When the border guard stops you at the crossing, they ask you why you’re going to Canada. (“None of your business,” I said in my head.) And they’re really asking you, as in, not small talk. Then they ask who you’re staying with. (Uh, the airbnb lady?) And what is your relation with her?

    On the way home it was similar (they asked about the length of my stay and also required that I pop my trunk).

    Their pit-bull demeanor and ferocious, unfriendly, yelling was really intimidating.

    And that is how my 4th of July taught me to hate America just a little bit more.

  22. I think there are apps for your phone that will store video elsewhere realtime, so even by deleting it, he would still have had a copy.

  23. In fairness, I do believe that a letter from the other parent is required by law for border crossings. Or at least I’ve seen it on the government website.

    That said, I’d be inclined to move to Canada full-time after that experience.

  24. You should recover that recording and share it. And these agents deserve to be named so they can be shamed.

  25. In contrast to this, I note without out irony the just posted item that makes mention of the proposal to interdict the minors of Central America in their home countries to clear them for asylum and fly them to the US.

    America! WTF?

  26. it is a dangerous trip north through Mexico, you must WANT them to arrive in the US abused, injured and disease ridden!!

  27. Sarcasm Button On:
    RE: Border Agents Harassed My Family, Forced Me to Delete Recording, ‘Because’
    Comrades! The border guard was acting according to our socialists principles, and we should not chastise him. He is an instrument of the our beloved totalitarian state. Soon, the Border Patrol will only allow in people who have the correct political ideals of our benevolent slave masters in Washington, DC. That will be a beautiful day indeed when the producing class is no longer in the United Soviet Socialist States of America, and the parasitic class will only allowed in to follow the kind and wise dictates of the over-educated, clueless east coast elitists. The USSSA has too many producers, and the border agent was trying to tell this producer he is no longer welcome here. What’s wrong with that? Harassment by government officials is a form of communication indicating certain people should be leaving. Hopefully, the man in the car will recognize this fact and leave…along with millions of other producers. Socialism works so much better with parasites that do not rebel or ask questions. One has only to look to California as an example how the capitalist were treated the past ten years and what has happened since. The producing class better get used to being harassed or leave our totalitarian paradise now.
    Sarcasm Button Off

  28. There is a great website dedicated to photographing government officials and the too often calamity it causes in people’s lives:


    It’s worth a visit.

  29. What was Officer Friendly’s name? We need to make a permanent record of these guys so they can be named and shamed forevAR.

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