03 Aug 2008
Information Seizure

Ultimately, if you are allowed to travel at all, it will be in a pod, naked and sedated.

Regulations already prohibit starting out with a variety of innocuous materials (shampoo), over-zealous policy enforcement prohibits “inappropriate” dress (Transformer t-shirts) , and economic pressure is exerted to limit the amount of luggage you carry.

If you carry electronic devices, you may be required to power them up to demonstrate that they are really what they seem to be, so you better have fully charged batteries … except that there is a limit on the number of batteries you can pack.

In this physical realm you can avoid some of the hassle (but not the stupidity) by judicious packing, shipping some items to your destination, and renting (or purchasing) things after arrival. Even if you have to discard material, or have property seized, it is replaceable.

However, much of what is important to us is information: vacation photos, autographed playbills, company documents, medical information, receipts, music, videos; a mix of digital data and bits of physical paper.

Back in April or May I ranted (offline) about the seizure of laptops. However, the Department of Homeland Security has recently disclosed their policy on information seizure. I hadn’t realized how broad that policy was.

Bruce Schneier, in “U.S. Government Policy for Seizing Laptops at Borders“, says “The U.S. government has published its policy: they can take your laptop anywhere they want, for as long as they want, and share the information with anyone they want…” He concludes with “Although honestly, the best thing is probably to keep your encrypted archives on some network drive somewhere, and download what you need after you cross the border.”

Although we’ve not yet reached the Johnny Mnemonic level of data couriers, I can imagine a market for hypoallergenic, bio-safe data storage devices which can be swallowed or inserted into various body orifices. That brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “thumb up your ass”. That might work until the introduction of mandatory cavity searches and whole-body X-rays for everyone.

But it doesn’t stop there. According to the Washington Post article “Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained At Border“,

Federal agents may take a traveler’s laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

The policies state that officers may “detain” laptops “for a reasonable period of time” to “review and analyze information.” This may take place “absent individualized suspicion.”

The policies cover “any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form,” including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover “all papers and other written documentation,” including books, pamphlets and “written materials commonly referred to as ‘pocket trash’ or ‘pocket litter.’ ”

Note carefully that it includes just about anything, whether digital or paper.

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, in the USA Today op-ed “Searches are legal, essential“, mentioned the usual tropes of “violent jihadist materials” and “child pornography”, but the actual policy [PDF] says

For example, examinations of documents and electronic devices are a crucial tool for detecting information concerning terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and other national security matters; alien admissibility; contraband including child pornography, monetary instruments, and information in violation of copyright or trademark laws; and evidence of embargo violations or other import or export control laws.

So, if they can’t get you on terrorist activity, they’ll get you for copyright violation. I hope all your DRM is up to date.

I fear we are rapidly approaching a dystopia similar to Fahrenheit 451 where the only safe data is what you have memorized and NOT committed to storage. From the Wikipedia plot summary: “Fahrenheit 451 takes place in an unspecified future time in a hedonistic and rabidly anti-intellectual America that has completely abandoned self-control, filled with lawlessness in the streets, from teenagers crashing cars into people to firemen at Montag’s station who set their mechanical hound to hunt various animals for the simple and grotesque pleasure of watching them die. Anyone caught reading books is, at the minimum, confined to a mental hospital while the books are burned. Illegal books mainly include famous works of literature, such as Whitman and Faulkner, as well as The Bible, and all historical texts.”

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.

image: Slashdot

Category: Life-Society
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