U.S. Recording Border Crossings of Citizens

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Homeland Security, Privacy

Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is now recording the border crossings of U.S. citizens. If you drive or walk back into the country from Canada or Mexico, the federal government will store that information for up to 15 years and has a right to share the data with any domestic law enforcement agency.

This is, of course, to help uncover terrorists and other criminals. Customs and Border Protection say they are not using the information to look for patterns of movement, but admit the data could be used by other law enforcement agencies that are trying out new technology designed to uncover suspicious or criminal behavior.

I fall pretty solidly in the libertarian camp when it comes to issues of privacy and how much we should allow our government to monitor us. Heck, I have serious problems with red light cameras. I know I’m not a moderate on this issue. So I will keep my personal comments short and cynical: eventually, I expect some government official/agency to seriously advocate warrantless monitoring of all U.S. citizens’ credit card purchases, phone calls and travel in order to detect criminal patterns of behavior. And a depressing chunk of people will support the measure because, as the naïve saying goes, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.”

O.k., I’m done with the over-the-top part of this post. Back to a reasoned discussion.

I know our government has been recording information on international air arrivals for many years. And I know including land border crossings in that system is not a big change. But shouldn’t there be some protections as to who can access this information and for what cause (such as a system of warrants)? Am I just being overly concerned here? What do you think?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 20th, 2008 and is filed under Homeland Security, Privacy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “U.S. Recording Border Crossings of Citizens”

  1. kranky kritter Says:

    It troubles me too. Always has, at a gut level. I’m one of those guys who thinks that MYOB goes a long way as a golden rule. Traffic cameras? Don’t get me started.

    Still, I reluctantly acknowledge that much of what we’d like to consider to be private actions are in fact public actions.

    The phone company already keeps records of our calls. The records are already there. Same thing with credit cards. And google searches. So they’re already not private secrets.

    Now certainly changing the rules to allow the gov’t to undertake electronic fishing expeditions to identify patterns that may or just as easily may not indicate criminal behavior is a troubling thing. A troubling thing that, as you say, could easily be approved via the blithe reasoning (if you haven’t done anything wrong…) you describe.

    Thing brings me to a peculiar aspect of law worth mentioning. Court ruling related to abortion (not sure if its RvW or a related case) are the ones which establish a vague and tenuous right to privacy. What we really need is a much better and more firmly established right to privacy… . Namely one which requires the government to first have probable cause in order to undertake searches, as opposed to one which allows electronic searches to CREATE the the probable cause needed for an even higher level of invasiveness.

    I a not sanguine about the prospects for this. IMO, very few folks really give a shit about it, because not that many folks have yet had the experience of the dolphin caught in the tuna net.

    But make no mistake. Over the next generation, we’ll be subject to the tightening of various electronic nooses. State computers will begin to automatically do things like cancel registrations or send you fine notices (bills, IOW) because you didn’t get your car inspected on time or renew your license for activity x, y, or z. You’ll get notices from either governments or private companies that certain analyses have identified you as in violation or in a certain undesirable category that makes you subject to a fine or a higher interest rate or a higher co-pay or a higher premium. I’ve been laughed at for years for claiming this is so.

    How many folks out there know that insurance companies are already offering lower premiums to folks who agree to be electronically monitored for things like driving speed and hard braking. Soon they’ll volunteer for things like having what food they buy monitored and how much exercise they do in exchange for lower health insurance rates.

    Big brother isn’t on the way. He’s already here. And we are inviting him in. He didn’t show up from the direction we were expecting. And sadly, many folks are delighted to see him!

  2. Mark Says:

    There was already a proposal this year to replace the federal gas tax with a mileage-based tax. It would require every vehicle to be fitted with a device that would allow the federal government to track where it drives.

    Ridiculous, but real.

  3. Alan Stewart Carl Says:

    Kranky — Yes. Exactly. We are already almost fully monitored. At this point, what we need is a privacy amendment to the Constitution to prevent the kinds of data-mining fishing expeditions law enforcement will likely be using within the next 25 years. But I’m not holding my breath.

  4. charlotte Says:

    I’m a Gen X’er, so that will probably go a long way in explaining my disposition on this issue. I hate to preface an opinion with any such graphic detail for fear of undermining the validity of the same. But, there isn’t a great deal I can do to alter my perceptions at this stage of my life. I use terms like Mutually Assured Destruction to describe business and inter-personal situations where risk is nearly evenly distributed, so to say I’m probably warped beyond repair could even be an understatement!
    But, I am aware of it. Acceptance may be the first step to recovery, but in my case, I doubt it.

    My views on the subject of privacy are extreme. And as far as I’m concerned, not having anything to hide is just not enough of a reason to be nonchalant about personal security. I have watched our Constitution be systematically dissected into something more akin to a Bill of Wrongs, as opposed to one of “Rights”. The majority of Americans have been willingly compromising their freedoms in the climate of fear that has been so pervasive since 9/11, and it gives me cause for grave concern about how far all of it will go.

    The problem with our country is that we always turn on ourselves and become our own worst enemy. When huge blocks of personal data are collected on individual citizens and then released to the terminals of the “officials” responsible for verifying any such data, the margin for error and incidence multiplies exponentially. Border crossings were once straight forward and almost laid back. I agree that we had to do something to step up the documentation requirements, but I was thinking of something that fell significantly shy of biometric scanning and movement monitoring.

    I’ve just spent the last five months in England, what an Orwellian nightmare! There’s literally a camera on every corner and a few strategic points in between. So, while we haven’t quite reached this extreme as of yet, I think it’s only because we’re bigger and it’s just taking longer to deploy. It’s coming, though, I’m sure of it. And the sad thing is, it doesn’t really help prevent anything that it seeks to prevent. The presence of cameras only forces criminals to relegate their activities to areas without them. I mean, it’s not really the dumb criminals we have to worry about, is it? They have a tendency to sort themselves out. It’s the clever buggers that will do us in. And with any emerging technologies, the potential for manipulation is high. I work in IT, and I know the security vulnerabilities that exist on database, as well as device levels. I don’t trust people or computers, I’m equally discriminating. I know that when we step off into the virtual realms, virtually anything can be translated into what most of us will take for reality, when it couldn’t be further from it.

    I have some near-conspiracy theories about what’s happening in our country right now. I am of the school of thought that these walls we’re building on our borders are not to keep anyone out, (because they won’t), but are being built to keep us IN! We crossed over to “Police State ” some time ago and nobody backtracks on policies of that nature once they’ve been implemented. We have more citizens incarcerated for simple drug violations than the whole of Western Europe for ALL CRIMES, combined! What does that say about us? Especially when our drug problems continue to wage on, unaffected by the so called “War” against them?
    Clearly, this could erupt into a multi-layered rant, so I will conclude this here. The only thing I can really add is, if you’re still free, start running.

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