Wednesday, January 18

The Company You Keep

The ACLU is leading the charge in suing the US Government over the collection of international phone and email communication. Other parties suing include the Center for Constitutional Rights, Greenpeace and the Council on American-Islamic Relations also known as CAIR. I suspect that you have heard of some of these organizations before.

I first hear that the US was monitoring international communications while I was on Christmas Vacation in Finland. At first, I only saw the initial story and really did not think much of it. After all, I have sailed around the world on merchant ships and have worked in foreign countries. I also lived in Europe for over three years while in school for my MBA. Whenever I was out of the US and called home, I just assumed that the US Government would be listening in to my conversations. Whenever I sent an email, I assumed that the US would scan it. I also suspected that the European Governments were probably doing the same. Either as it left their country, or transited through it.

Let’s put what the Government is doing in context with the following:

Whenever you leave and enter the US, you are subject to inspection (and interrogation) by both immigration and Customs. This applies to everyone. The officers do not need to justify why they chose you. They also do not need to get a search warrant to go through your things. They also can ask whatever questions they deem relevant. Such as;

  • Where you traveled.
  • Why you were traveling.
  • Who are the people whose business cards you have in your wallet.
  • Whose phone numbers are in your mobile phone.

Be aware that under U.S. law, CBP officers are authorized to examine luggage, cargo, and travelers. Under the search authority granted by the U.S. Congress, every person who crosses a U.S. border may be searched and questioned about their travel. To stop the flow of illegal drugs and other contraband into our country, your cooperation is appreciated.

Pretty draconian isn’t it? I can tell you that it is not fun either. If you’re a lawyer, you shouldn’t expect your documents to be safe under some sort of lawyer-client privilege. After all, you are a lawyer, not a diplomat.

The Department of Agriculture will also be waiting there to check out your luggage. I have to admit that it is pretty funny to watch the Food sniffing dog officer sit and put his paws on grandma’s luggage indicating that grandma is smuggling snacks into the US.

You can bet that a warrant is just another piece of paper to the dog.

What is good for you is also good for all packages and mail coming into the US. Again, there is no need to obtain a warrant to open your mail. Even if they contain legal documents for your client.

So who gave these interest groups the illusion that communicating across the border is somehow sacred? Sure their communications within the US are protected. What about the Government on the other side of the conversation. Do they expect the Pakistani Government to respect their right to privacy? What about the Saudis? Listening to the news, you would think that those filing the lawsuits are somehow victims. Well they have to sound like victims in order to sue. But they have made a huge error portraying that the Government is spying on them.

The program concentrated on the communications of suspected terrorists and their associates. If the Government did obtain their phone or email details, then it was because they either contacted or were contacted by one of these people of interest. Sure, they might be dealing with these people in the course of their jobs. This does not let them off the hook. THEY chose to associate with these people. THEY chose to represent these people. People who were in the country ILLEGIALLY. People who were fighting in Afghanistan in violation of the Geneva Convention, and are now detailed in Gitmo. People who are suspected of killing Americans. People who are going to be charged with crimes against the United States.

Those suing are claiming that they communicate with suspected terrorists. After all, this is who the Government is ‘spying’ on.

The fake rage over the alleged Government activity is even more ridiculous when you consider that these people believe that the Government is capable and does abuse the rights of people. That is why they are working for these organizations. Not for anything, but what is the ACLU doing representing foreigners? Are there no Americans in need of their assistance? What about all those Americans who rights are ‘abused’ every time they return back to the US?

In the course of my work I receive phone calls and emails from around the world including from Greece, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. I have never met these people and while I have to reason to believe that any of them have any connections to terrorism, I also do not know what they are up to. So I suspect that my email address and phone number is also included in the data.

Should I be made about this? Hardly. I would hope that the Government is watching any people who contact me who are suspected terrorists. The last thing I want to be is an unwitting accomplice to an act of terror.

It seems that these folks have no problem assisting those who want to do us harm, and want to make sure that the Government doesn’t get in their way. If anything, the Government should look into the activities of these people even more. Perhaps the rage is not so fake. Perhaps there is fear that the Government might know some of the secrets that they hold. If they are committing crimes, then I suspect they should be worried.

If not, then they should take a chill pill. YOUR LIFE IS NOT THAT INTERESTING…To the government at least. Federal Agents are not that stupid. They have a limited amount of resources and spending time looking into what your up to is a waste of time, unless your engaging in some illegal activity. If they are snooping into your life, they will move on once they get bored of you. Just consider the intrusion to be your contribution to the war on terror.

Update: 19 Jan 06:

Take a look at this post which does a great job of documenting what kind of activity the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are up to and the type of clients the plaintiffs represent.

She also has this invitation:

The Right to Travel
By Doug Hornig

In our November 28 issue, we explored one new limitation on Americans’ right to travel freely, what we called the “ultimate no-fly list.” But there are a couple of other surveillance items about which travelers should know.

Do you own a laptop computer? Do you routinely travel with it?

If so, you might want to consider taking a few precautions, because evidence is mounting that federal officials are legally (and, so they say, “randomly”) opening a growing number of laptops owned by passengers returning to the U.S. And perusing their contents.

The vast majority of travelers don’t realize that customs agents have the legal authority to do this. Computers may also be seized and held indefinitely, without the agents having to obtain probable cause that a crime has been committed. Victims of seizures have no right to know why they’ve been targeted.

While you may be unaware that this has been going on, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives is not. The ACTE, an international trade group representing corporate travel managers, is concerned about the potential loss of proprietary information, and Susan Gurley, its executive director, wrote the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in early November, in an attempt to clarify policy.

“Are copies made of the information?” Gurley asked. “What safeguards do you have in place? Is the information downloaded and/or mirrored and stored somewhere, and if yes, for how long? Who has access to it?”

As of now, we don’t believe the DHS has yet responded, but if laptop guidelines are similar to those for ATS, detailed below, we doubt we’ll like the answers.

New York Times writer Joe Sharkey published one instance of seizure that could have happened to most anyone, quoting a correspondent who wrote him that “as he returned from a business trip to Europe, his laptop was seized in what he said he was told was a random search.

“‘After giving me and my shoes a thorough search, they moved on to my laptop,’ he wrote. ‘On the desktop I had a folder named “Blueprints” which contained, as labeled, blueprints for several potential designs for our company’s expansion in Madrid and Houston.’

“He added, ‘My laptop was initially searched by one person, but he called for backup,’ when he saw the blueprints. ‘It seemed they were convinced I was sent to plant bombs in those nonexistent buildings.’ He said he hasn’t seen the laptop since.”

How to protect yourself? Eddie Baron, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, suggests storing your data files on a flash drive and packing it in your checked luggage.

Sharkey quotes Jack Riepe, a spokesman for the ACTE, who has another alternative: “I got a file on my desktop called ‘Terrorist Notes.’ I’m keeping notes on writing a thriller, but maybe I should change the file to ‘Grandma’s Favorite Cookie Recipes’.” That might help, unless they Google Riepe and find that he once wrote a book entitled, Politically Correct Cigar Smoking for Social Terrorists. Then he can kiss his computer good-bye. - WWKN Archive

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FYI, while a customs officer can take a look at your legal papers they are expected to keep it in confidence. Say you are handling a divorce between let's say Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. They can't discuss what they've seen with other officers or family, or run off to the tabloids with it. The same thing applies to everything else that a customs officer sees during their day.