Travel abuses

Still traveling, but thought this email from the ACLU would be useful to anyone like me returning to the States:

Dear ACLU Supporter,

Planning a vacation? Thinking about traveling outside the country?

If you travel outside the United States, you can kiss your right to privacy, and perhaps your laptop, digital camera and cell phone, goodbye.

With no suspicion and no explanation, the U.S. government can seize your laptop, cell phone, or PDA as you enter the United States and download all your private information — including your personal and business documents, emails, phone calls, and web history. The Department of Homeland Security confirms that this is the official policy.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

What happens if you refuse to let the agents download your personal photos? Or if you have encrypted your private information? Then Border Patrol — which is now an agency of the Department of Homeland Security — can simply copy your entire hard drive or even take your device and hang on to it indefinitely.

Unfortunately, seizing laptops and cameras at the border isn’t the only travel security measure that infringes on our civil liberties.

Just last month, the U.S. government’s “terrorist watch list” surpassed one million names and is growing by over twenty-thousand names per month. The watch list includes the names of prominent people, like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), plus hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans — many of them with common names like Robert Johnson and James Robinson. Your name might be on the list, but there’s no way to know for sure until you are delayed — or even detained for hours in a back room. If you discover your name is on the list, it’s nearly impossible to get off. It actually took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela off the list. No joke. An Act of Congress.

These abuses have something in common: They make all of us into suspects, with no rule of law and no accountability.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s hard to know what surveillance-state bureaucrats will come up with next. For instance, many airports are using scanners that are so invasive that they are like a virtual strip search! See-through body scanning machines are capable of showing an image of a passenger’s naked body. Security measures like this are extremely intrusive — and should only be used when there is good cause to suspect that an individual is a security risk.

And recently, the TSA expressed interest in having every traveler wear an “electro-muscular disruption” bracelet that airline personnel or marshals could use to shock passengers into submission. Unless something is done, this plan may not be as far-fetched as one would think.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

Traveling shouldn’t mean checking your rights when you’re checking your luggage. It’s time for some sanity when it comes to security. Please, speak out now.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office

P.S. Many Americans don’t know about these travel abuses. Please forward this email on to anyone you know who travels and ask them to take action, too.

© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004

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