An excellent Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s NY Times regarding the problem I identified here some weeks or months ago: “Can You Frisk a Hard Drive?” by David K. Shipler.
If you stand with the Customs and Border Protection officers who staff the passport booths at Dulles airport near the nation’s capital, their task seems daunting. As a huge crowd of weary travelers shuffle along in serpentine lines, inspectors make quick decisions by asking a few questions (often across language barriers) and watching computer displays that don’t go much beyond name, date of birth and codes for a previous customs problem or an outstanding arrest warrant.
The officers are supposed to pick out the possible smugglers, terrorists or child pornographers and send them to secondary screening.
And there is where concerns have developed about invasions of privacy, for the most complete records on the travelers may be the ones they are carrying: their laptop computers full of professional and personal e-mail messages, photographs, diaries, legal documents, tax returns, browsing histories and other windows into their lives far beyond anything that could be, or would be, stuffed into a suitcase for a trip abroad. Those revealing digital portraits can be immensely useful to inspectors, who now hunt for criminal activity and security threats by searching and copying people’s hard drives, cellphones and other electronic devices, which are sometimes held for weeks of analysis.
As I pointed out when I originally wrote on the subject, these searches take place because the standards for search at the border are lower than those we citizens encounter as we go about our daily business.
(Shipler’s book, The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties, will be published in April.)
The ACLU addressed the issue back in January 2010, presenting results of an FOIA request that netted statistics of the number of searches and items that have been searched.
Now, a word to the wise for you photographers of the nude out there who may travel internationally: I recommend you purchase a new set of CF or SD cards for your next out-of-country trip. Unless you fill up cards abroad that you used to photograph your latest model, even though you formatted the card before using it again, photos of your model — and perhaps ones you don’t want Customs people to see — are still recoverable, and will be when the Customs agents take your dSLR and its cards at the border.
TCM Department (II)
Turner Classic Movies continued its stream of Oscar winners last night with another favorite, My Fair Lady. A masterful creation. “Come on, Dover, move your bloomin’ ass!” A fairy tale in a Cockney accent!
After the Camera is Off Department
I’d really like to have been in the studio after the cameras were turned off:
High Rollers Department
Query: Are there enough graduates (and their spouses) of the University of Chicago to pay $64,950 per person and fill 78 seats in a privately-chartered 757 for a guided 22-day tour around the world? If there are, my estimates of the number of rich alumni just went up a notch, and believe me, I already thought UofC had a goodly share of multi-millionaires among its alumni.
The University may be sensitive about widely advertising this opportunity — no mention of it among the alumni trips listed on their “Study Trips” page. They sent me a brochure.
In case you’re interested, here are the stops:
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Getting Around Prior Restraint Department
How does the government get around the prohibition on prior restraint of speech? By going to a court and getting a secret order, of course. Only the latest in a string of such offensive acts, this one — through utter stupidity and carelessness on the part of the government — resulted in labeling 84,000 websites as purveyors of child pornography. From The Register:
The power grab came last Friday, when the mooo.com, an address a service called Free DNS used to resolve more than user 84,000 websites was unceremoniously suspended at the registrar level. Sites that relied on mooo.com soon displayed a banner that said the domain name had been seized by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main investigative arm of the US Department of Homeland Security. The banner went on to include this creepy nugget:
“Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution.”
Operation Protect Our Children comes on the heels of a separate ICE initiative dubbed Operation in our Sites, which seizes domain names for websites accused of offering pirated or counterfeited content or products. Like last week’s operation, it didn’t afford any prior notice to the owners, many of whom are located outside US borders.
Enough Already! Department
Reports of as much as 16 inches of new snow overnight — I’ve not measured the amount received outside our front door, but it is significant. The city is semi-shut down this morning — good thing it is a federal holiday. Oh well, I shopped on Saturday so have no need to go anywhere, and I’ve got plenty of photos of Edith to keep me warm (err, busy).
With Abigail, an early model, on one of my first visits to Louisville Swamp, and the first in autumn.