Scary stuff. Scary fracking stuff indeed.
Using data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the ACLU has determined that nearly 2/3 of the entire US population (197.4 million people) live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.
The government is assuming extraordinary powers to stop and search individuals within this zone. This is not just about the border: This ” Constitution-Free Zone” includes most of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.
We urge you to call on Congress to hold hearings on and pass legislation to end these egregious violations of Americans’ civil rights.
The ACLU has compiled a FAQ which begins:
- Normally under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American people are not generally subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches.
- The border, however, has always been an exception. There, the longstanding view is that the normal rules do not apply. For example the authorities do not need a warrant or probable cause to conduct a “routine search.”
- But what is “the border”? According to the government, it is a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the “external boundary” of the United States.
- As a result of this claimed authority, individuals who are far away from the border, American citizens traveling from one place in America to another, are being stopped and harassed in ways that our Constitution does not permit.
- Border Patrol has been setting up checkpoints inland — on highways in states such as California, Texas and Arizona, and at ferry terminals in Washington State. Typically, the agents ask drivers and passengers about their citizenship. Unfortunately, our courts so far have permitted these kinds of checkpoints – legally speaking, they are “administrative” stops that are permitted only for the specific purpose of protecting the nation’s borders. They cannot become general drug-search or other law enforcement efforts.
- However, these stops by Border Patrol agents are not remaining confined to that border security purpose. On the roads of California and elsewhere in the nation – places far removed from the actual border – agents are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.
- The bottom line is that the extraordinary authorities that the government possesses at the border are spilling into regular American streets.
The ACLU has also written a bit about the technology innovations which are enabling this massive and un-American database project.
Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post wrote recently:
The U.S. government has quietly recast policies that affect the way information is gathered from U.S. citizens and others crossing the border and what is done with it, including relaxing a two-decade-old policy that placed a high bar on federal agents copying travelers’ personal material, according to newly released documents.
The policy changes, civil liberties advocates say, also raise concerns about the guidelines under which border officers may share data copied from laptop computers and cellphones with other agencies and the types of questions they are allowed to ask American citizens.
In July, the Department of Homeland Security disclosed policies that showed that federal agents may copy books, documents, and the data on laptops and other electronic devices without suspecting a traveler of wrongdoing. But what DHS did not disclose was that since 1986 and until last year, the government generally required a higher standard: Federal agents needed probable cause that a law was being broken before they could copy material a traveler was bringing into the country.
and added this in an earlier article on the same topic:
The notice states that the government may share border records with federal, state, local, tribal or foreign government agencies in cases where customs believes the information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws or regulations, or if the information is relevant to a hiring decision.
They may be shared with a court or attorney in civil litigation, which could include divorce cases; with federal contractors or consultants “to accomplish an agency function related to this system of records”; with federal and foreign intelligence or counterterrorism agencies if there is a threat to national or international security or to assist in anti-terrorism efforts; or with the news media and the public “when there exists a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the information.”
Homeland Security is proposing to exempt the database from some provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act, including the right of a citizen to know whether a law enforcement or intelligence agency has requested his or her records and the right to sue for access and correction in those disclosures.
A traveler may, however, request access to records based on documents he or she presented at the border.
The notice is posted at the Government Printing Office‘s Web site.
Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times wrote of one such occurrence in 2007:
Layla Iranshad, 27, was headed to her job at Peninsula College. She says the agent asked her if she was a U.S. citizen (yes, she answered), then asked where she was born.
“I said in England. Then he asked how I got my citizenship. He also wanted to know where I lived and where I was going.
“It freaked me out. Since when in this country do we get stopped on the street and questioned about our citizenship?”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last week it will stop drivers at a series of random checkpoints on the Olympic Peninsula in the coming months.
“The primary purpose of the temporary checkpoints is to support enhanced national-security efforts to deter, detect and prevent the threat of terrorist attacks against the American people,” says a statement from the Border Patrol.
The agency, which guards the international boundary, can set up “interior checkpoints” up to 100 miles from any border. The checkpoints have been used before near the Blaine crossing, but never on the Olympic Peninsula.
Forks is 30 miles from the border, which lies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By these rules, the agency could set up a checkpoint in downtown Seattle, which is 70 miles from the border off Port Angeles.
Remind me again what country we live in? I’m writing my Senators1 and my Congress-critter about this crazy, totalitarian, government insanity. How about you?Footnotes:
- one of whom should become President, and one of whom probably will become President [↩]