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Jan 21 2014

Abuses at the borders

On December 31, 2013, a US District Court judge in Brooklyn, New York ruled that US border officials need not have ‘reasonable suspicion’ in order to search and copy people’s laptops, cell phones, and other devices at border checkpoints. The judge’s opinion can be seen here.

This lack of basic protections from unreasonable searches and seizures is not unique to the US. We saw it happen with David Miranda at London’s Heathrow airport and via reader Sarah, I learn that the airport authorities in Auckland, New Zealand seem to be copying the same thuggish practices as those at Heathrow and the US, taking away people’s electronic equipment supposedly because of a terrorist threat, but in reality because of the person’s association with the Snowden revelations.

A backpacker coming home for Christmas had every bit of electronic equipment stripped from him at the airport.

A Customs officer at Auckland International Airport took law graduate Sam Blackman’s two smartphones, iPad, an external hard drive and laptop – and demanded his passwords.

Mr Blackman, 27, who was breaking up travelling with his journalist fiance Imogen Crispe for a month back in New Zealand for Christmas, was initially given no reason why the gear was taken.

The only possibility of why it occurred was his attendance – and tweeting – of a London meeting on mass surveillance sparked by the Snowden revelations, he said.

Later Blackman was given a dubious explanation for why he was singled out.

He was also given an explanation – although he is unsure whether to believe it.

He said he was told by a Customs official that his name matched a username on an account for an internet service provider in 2007.

He said he was told someone using the account accessed objectionable material on a specific date in 2007.

Mr Blackman said the account, which was in a university student flat, was used by all the people living in the flat. He said he was not living at the address at the time the material was accessed.

Mr Blackman and journalist fiancee Imogen Crispe had attended a meeting last month at which Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was present where the Edward Snowden NSA leaks were discussed.

He said the explanation left him wondering whether it was his public tweets from the Snowden meeting which had raised his profile.

New Zealand is one of the ‘Five Eyes’ English-speaking countries (the others are the US, UK, Australia, and Canada) that cooperate in the global spying network and share information and tactics.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I have a dropbox client on my phone and a skydrive client and a google drive client and a boxcryptor client and an ip camera viewer.

    If the cops can legally search my phone and bypass its security and can run my apps, they can quite literally see into my apartment and into various encrypted and private documents. Things they would not be able to look at and search if they arrived at my apartment without a warrant.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    accessed objectionable material

    Objectionable is not illegal.

  3. 3
    hyphenman

    2014… The Year of the Analog…

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    If the cops can legally search my phone and bypass its security and can run my apps, they can quite literally see into my apartment and into various encrypted and private documents.

    My accountant always used to say “there are only 2 kinds of people in hell: those that were caught in the act and those that kept records.” In response to the police state, I’ve more or less stopped keeping anything of consequence outside of my head.

  5. 5
    PeterG

    So why on earth do you run that crap on your phone??

    Your smartphone is the absolutely least secure element of your life. If you’re only going to encrypt and secure 1 thing, it should be that.

  6. 6
    wtfwhateverd00d

    @PeterG

    “If you’re only going to encrypt and secure 1 thing, it should be that.”

    I guess that makes it all right then.

    The point Peter is that what is on your phone these days goes way beyond the phone itself. So when courts think of phones they need to think of something more than a 2000 Nokia.

  7. 7
    unbound

    Elimination of the 4th amendment….check…

  8. 8
    Rob

    Marcus @2

    The phrase ‘objectionable’ has a particular meaning in New Zealand anti-pornography law. Not the common and garden variety of usage. In New Zealand, as with most other western nations, the right to free speech is not an absolute. In that, for better or worse, the USA is very much an outlier.

  9. 9
    khms

    In New Zealand, as with most other western nations, the right to free speech is not an absolute. In that, for better or worse, the USA is very much an outlier.

    It’s an absolute in the US? There are zero rules that say that there are things you may not say? No rules about insults? No rules about secrets backed by national security? No rules about … I think you get my point.

    Different nations differ in where they set the limits to rights, but they all set some limits for every right.

    And that’s not even looking at practical as opposed to theoretical limits.

  10. 10
    Lassi Hippeläinen

    Security theater to scare the rubes. The real criminals (or “criminals”) won’t be caught that way. They travel without a laptop. Once in the country, they buy a second hand machine, install Ubuntu, and load their data from their home server. Before leaving the country, dump any data worth saving to the server, wipe the machine, and sell it onwards.

    Maybe the next step is to arrest all travellelrs without a laptop…

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