Schneier on Security
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September 14, 2010
Not Answering Questions at U.S. Customs
I was detained last night by federal authorities at San Francisco International Airport for refusing to answer questions about why I had travelled outside the United States.
The end result is that, after waiting for about half an hour and refusing to answer further questions, I was released because U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration are not obligated to answer questions.
Posted on September 14, 2010 at 12:58 PM
• 109 Comments
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“'Why were you in China?' asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.
'None of your business,' I said."
It all goes downhill from there...
Yeah, confrontational speech leads to... confrontation.
His "Principal Take-Aways" section at the bottom omits this fact. Some people don't learn.
If you listen to the average anti-government, anti-authority scare monger, you would hear that all border guards are trigger happy brutes with no regard for the law. Glad to hear at least one story counter to that old tired argument.
I think it was brave, but I know for certain I wouldn't do it.
How dare they!
We have confirmation once again that we Americans have the inalienable right to... be assholes.
Just give obvious answers, people! Don't be idiotic and impudent.
Be relaxed, keep your answers simple, trite, and mundane and you will sail through...I know.
Here's an excerpt from my recent interview:
Guard: "Why were you in Uzbekistan?"
Me: "For fun."
His response to the comments has a good point, in that by answering the CBP officers question, you are making a statement to a LEO, and if they think you are lying, they can make your life miserable for a good long while.
See this video for a good explanation of why talking to LEO is not always a good idea:
As for answering question, why should I have to, even such a simple question, unless there is some identifiable reason why I need additional scrutiny?
My favorite answer when they ask if I have anything to declare is to state that I bought a box of cholates. They usually become interested very quickly. I think that is the converse of this lesson.
Part of law enforcement's job is to handle people who are behaving legally but being kinda dicks. The officers wasted their own time because they really wanted to "win." When faced with someone like Lukacs, they need to act like professionals. The correct solution would have been, "Very well, sir. We are legally allowed to perform an search of your bags and will now to being do." Do the search (which they ended up doing anyway), then send him on his way. What they actually did was a petty power trip. I do not want law enforcement playing power games.
On the other side of the coin, we do need people to push back on law enforcement. We have rights and we should damn well use them. When we don't use them, people start considering sacrificing them for the illusion of security. There is no need to be quite as belligerent as Lukacs was, but fundamentally it was his right and I applaud him for it.
She bluffed, he called and it took the house 90 minutes to grudgingly show it's hand. The take-away I get is that federal agencies shouldn't go bluffing without a lot more at stake than an algorithmic flag. Also, I have a tough time faulting a private citizen for his lack of decorum when the state was knowingly overstepping its bounds. I'm pretty sure violating constitutional rights is ILLEGAL whereas using abrupt language is just being a big meanie.
Regardless of his demeanor (and he clearly overstates his case about them being thugs and brutes), the bottom line is that he was exercising his rights and law enforcement officers were punishing him and trying to force him to stop exercising his rights.
Ned said "Some people don't learn."
I think it's worse than that. Some people always think they are going to teach the other guy a lesson!
There's no law against being a total jerk, but if there were, this guy would be locked up for sure.
Just because you have a legal right doesn't mean that exercising it is necessarily a good idea. When I reentered the US at IAD a couple of weeks ago, my declaration said (correctly) that I had been traveling on business. The CBP agent asked the nature of my business. I said "Attending a trade show" and he said "Welcome home." I can't imagine what a demurral would have accomplished other than a lot of trouble for him and me.
Sometimes choosing not to exercise a right is the correct thing to do. It doesn't mean that you have waived those rights when they actually matter.
Why do these officers ask, anyway? Do they expect someone would confess "oh, I spent my holidays in a terrorist training camp" or sth. of the like?
@Ned, bcross: I have the right to refuse to answer questions. If you feel that is "confrontational" then you're actually entirely correct for an entirely incorrect reason -- any conversation with an LEO /is/ a confrontation; the LEO is trying to gather enough evidence to arrest and convict you, every time, no exceptions.
Go watch "Why you should never talk to the police," and you'll see that though the 99% case may cost you an hour or two's detainment that 1% case can cost you your life.
Interesting. Two part.
I applaud the stance at the immigration desk, although, to be honest, I think they are mostly bored officers. I'd like to see a big sign saying "you don't have to answer any questions to be let in"
The customs things, however, is different. You don't have a right to shut up.
Steve: "It doesn't mean that you have waived those rights when they actually matter."
Umm, yes it does, in practice. If the only times that you demand your rights is "when it matters" --- i.e., demanding your rights is prima facie evidence that you in fact are doing something that the state cares about and wishes to interrupt -- then the state knows precisely when it's worth their time to break the law, deny you your rights, and let the courts sort it out over years or decades.
Yes -- we precisely need people being dicks for no reason at all. That sets the boundaries -- that tells them that denying people their rights is a bad bet, a waste of time that 99.9% of the time produces nothing of value to them.
And why doesn't it appear to anyone that it's a dick move to demand from a total stranger information you have no right to? So who the hell was being the dick?
Yes, being subservient to bureaucrats is usually the smart, self-interested move.
Land of the brave, home of the free, indeed. We really are getting exactly what we deserve.
What I took away from the description of the incident is that the customs employees did their jobs correctly and professionally.
Part of their mandate is to look for suspicious behavior, and the poster was clearly acting suspiciously (albeit legally). Therefore, his case was passed up the seniority chain until someone with enough authority could vet him and then clear him through the system. He annoyed the customs people and wasted their time, so they returned the favor. That's more of a human interaction issue rather than a legal issue.
Really, though, a 90 minute delay on an international flight is a *small* delay!
There is something to be said for a bureaucratic process which can withstand the statistical scrutiny of such random asshole plays. I don't know if customs passed or failed this man's test, but I think it pushed the whole system one tiny step in the checks and balances direction.
That being said, you wont find me doing that. I always have a connection to make!
One doesn't have to travel outside the country to experience this sort of arrogance, just go east on Interstate 15 and turn around past the California Agricultural Inspection Station.
"Where are you coming from?" "East." "You have to submit to an inspection." "No, I don't." As was said, downhill from there....
Sometimes they just wave you through. Sometimes you get wannabe fascist power-tripper.
Honestly, I thought the ICE folks behaved fine. No, the guy isn't required to answer any questions, but the consequence of not answering a couple of simple questions is that ICE has to use some other method of determining whether or not the guy is a problem. As a result, he cooled his heels in secondary screening for 1/2 hour while they did a database search on him, found out that he was a harmless jerk, and let him go on his merry way. Sounds like everything worked as it should.
"None of your business" is a perfectly acceptable answer to any impertinent question. If they are rude enough to ask something none of their business they should have expected nothing else. I always thought that should have been Clinton's answer to the questions about Monica.
It's the beard man... it's the beard. Ditch the beard and maybe get Gillette or Schick to front some promotion money for the shaving.
Ever since 9/11 the 'beard' is a sure giveaway of 'someone trying to hide something' ( usually their chin - but you never can be sure nowadays ).
My daddy also told me to never trust a guy driving a car who has a hat on... (they almost always do something boneheaded while driving ).
I agree, ICE did exactly what they were supposed to do. He had a legal right to not answer, and they had a legal obligation to respond to suspicious behavior and check if there was a crime being committed. They didn't see anything illegal and let him go.
I once entered the US with an unfortunate and contagious foot condition; when asked to take off my shoes I quietly suggested I did this somewhere where other people might avoid contamination; I was screamed at by the official at the top of his voice... most unpleasant and completely unnecessary.
I still worry that they didn't clean that carpet for weeks and many innocent people suffered as a result.
I've a good friend who thinks that parking attendants are the scum of the earth he say's 'they choose to do the job they do - they wouldn't do it if they didn't enjoy it'.
I think he's possibly correct.
Rights don't mean a great deal when you've got a power-mad officious b' in front of you; never have, never will and I heartily recommend that no non-American try the stunt of not answering questions... at least not while Guantanamo is still open for business.
The real problem with the CBP's reaction is that, anybody who was really "up to something" wouldn't purposely cause a hassle and draw attention to themselves, they'd answer all the questions quickly and politely. They'd lie, but they'd answer.
I'm amazed that so few people ever invoke their rights. Two co-workers were discussing being pulled over and allowing the police to search their car. The seemed to think it was the best option, in fact, they seemed to think cooperation was a no-brainer. They turned to me for affirmation, and I said they should never, ever, give up any of their rights.
"But, but, in this case it was the right thing to do, right?"
"No, you should never give up any of your rights."
They shook their heads in bafflement. I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about. Imagine, demanding your rights...
Well, it's all very well for a nice white bloke to refuse to answer the questions and be delayed for half an hour, but would it have been such a pleasant experience for a muslim US citizen? I doubt it.
@Alex: "I agree, ICE did exactly what they were supposed to do. He had a legal right to not answer, and they had a legal obligation to respond to suspicious behavior and check if there was a crime being committed. They didn't see anything illegal and let him go."
So it's suspicious to behave totally legally without even the slightest secondary evidence... Hmmm. Personally, I find it suspicious when folks try to ingratiate themselves with me, respond to any command I give without resistance and basically behave like small children being reprimanded by mom.
But I guess to many Americans, the reverse is true. Hmm.... That explains, I guess, why so many people are drowning in debt, why so many got taken by smooth talking brokers and salesmen.
The more I think about, the more I'm convinced we are getting economically, socially and politically exactly what we deserve.
Nota bene: folks who kiss your ass are not your friends. The waitress who says "have a nice day" really doesn't care whether you have a nice day (and you should probably double-check that check). The employee who's unfailingly polite, comes in early and stays late? Yeah, he's the one robbing you -- not the guy who bitches if you ask for free overtime.
What a country.
@janwo: Why do these officers ask, anyway? Do they expect someone would confess "oh, I spent my holidays in a terrorist training camp" or sth. of the like?
The answer is that a CBP guy who is doing the job correctly, is looking for suspicious patterns or behavior. IOW it's not the content of the answer, its the delivery. CF the Customs inspector who caught the Millenium (would-be) bomber in Port Angeles because he was, in her words, "acting hinky." (A judgement, I note, that has been strongly and frequently lauded by Bruce.)
Before you jump all over me, note the "doing the job properly" caveat. I've been on both sides of the equation. I thik CBP did the right thing in the wrong way. There is no good reason to be rude and abrasive about it ... at least not as a knee-jerk reaction. Rude and abrasive is a good tactic in some situations but not as an opening move.
@Myers: "Well, it's all very well for a nice white bloke to refuse to answer the questions and be delayed for half an hour, but would it have been such a pleasant experience for a muslim US citizen? I doubt it."
That would be the point, wouldn't it? If a member of the privileged caste is treated poorly, what hope is there for those of us less privileged? If those who are the most protected by culture, tradition and law are too cowardly to stand up for their right to respond to dickishness with dickishness -- well those of us a shade darker are truly screwed.
I hope more "privileged white males" stand on their rights -- unlike the rest of us, the only reason they refuse to confront the obnoxiousness of petty bureaucrats is simple narcissism and cowardice.
Which is probably why such behavior causes such resentment particularly among privileged white males.
My dad had a brief experience coming back from Canada a bit ago. Border guards asked him how long he was over there. He said "24 hours". Then they asked "When did you arrive?" and he said "8pm Yesterday". Guess he was a bit too specific, because it was 6pm, and the guard changed tone and said "That's not 24 hours". He quickly recanted. Everywhere else what he said would have been completely acceptable, but not at the border apparently.
Some commenters apparently have a loose definition of suspicious behavior. Now if the refusal was accompanied by certain behavioral cues or the questions were more germane (Do you have anything to declare, etc.) that might be suspicious. Refusal to answer a broad and non-mandatory question, on the other hand...
"Part of their mandate is to look for suspicious behavior, and the poster was clearly acting suspiciously (albeit legally)."
And there is the trap.
If you loose your rights for 'acting suspiciously', and insisting on your rights is deemed 'suspicious', then you have no rights at all.
If he had said something to the effect of, "I am a U.S. citizen and have shown you proof of that. As such I am not required to answer any questions for entry." instead of "None of your business" He probably would have received better treatment. (Primarily because they would have known he was just a smartass.)
I understand the resistance to answer "fishing" questions of no security value for re-entry to one's own country. I understand the tendency of some uniformed workers in menial jobs to attempt to lay claim to as much power and authority and timid folk will allow, just for personal agrandizement.
What I don't understand is why so many people side with the latter.
This reminds me of what I did yesterday. I was walking in the park. I decided to sit on the bench and while there I decided to give up all of my rights for 5 minutes. Surprisingly, nothing happened. After the 5 minutes was up I decided to re-acquire my rights and felt much better for having done so.
Actually, refusing to "cooperate" may specifically NOT in itself be used as probable cause. One of the comments to TFA has a citation - I have a train to catch, or I'd post it for you.
Sort of reminds me of what Bruce said when he advised people not to let police search them without a warrant. He advised them to say "I do not consent to this search." He didn't say "tell them its none of their business."
I see this similar. It's one thing to remind guard that one is not required to provide a reason for re-entering their own country. It's another to give a confrontational answer to a question that they know is going to ask.
If one doesn't want to answer a question or authorize a search that they are not required to answer, that's well within their rights. But confrontational comments don't do anyone any good.
@HJohn: "It's one thing to remind guard that one is not required to provide a reason for re-entering their own country."
So... How would you phrase it?
And, given your phrasing, do you think the guard would react any differently from the case at hand?
@kangaroo: It depends on the details. Being an ass is certainly legal, but it is also suspicious. We only have one side of the story, and we all know how that goes. I'm just not quick to condemn CBP without having at least their version of events (and I'd prefer video or at least a third party view). Here is a perfect example of why: http://blog.tsa.gov/2009/10/...
"That would be the point, wouldn't it? If a member of the privileged caste is treated poorly, what hope is there for those of us less privileged? If those who are the most protected by culture, tradition and law are too cowardly to stand up for their right to respond to dickishness with dickishness -- well those of us a shade darker are truly screwed."
In other words, the white man MUST be a dick so that the rights of non-whites are protected.
If more people were willing to give up 90 minutes of their time to protect the rights of all of us, we'd be a better people.
Here's the bottom line: It WAS "none of their business" to ask such questions of an American citizen who has established that fact by documentation.
Without probable cause - which is what they were trying to establish by getting this person to answer questions - they HAVE NO RIGHT to interrogate you or detain you.
This is why you never say ANYTHING to LEO except "On advice of attorney, I have nothing to say", followed by "Am I under detention?" If the response is negative, you say "Good-bye". If you are under detention, you immediately request your legal phone call.
ANYTHING else you say will be used against you.
What this means is that "none of your business" is a correct, if untactful response. Better to use the phrases I mention, they are emotionally neutral.
I'm just relieved to hear we can legally refuse to answer customs questions and not be denied re-entry. On my last several international trips, I've been subject to extra, invasive questioning on the border because I travel to study cross-cultural religious beliefs and practices. Sometimes they try to figure out what my personal religion is, as if that should matter in security assessment, and usually they try to figure out my university of affiliation as if it would somehow be suspicious behavior to study religion if one doesn't happen to be a professional scholar. (I am a professional scholar, but disentangling when I am traveling because of personal religious interest and when I am engaged in professional research is a vexed and purely bureaucratic question because my hobby is the same as my profession). I usually end up in secondary screening anyway because there is no way even with the best of intentions to get my answers to correspond to their tidy little boxes, and I would probably be far less exasperated by the whole process if I simply refused to answer any of their stupid questions in the first place. Search my bags, baby - just don't make me feel like I'm less of a citizen because I'm interested in other religions. I'll even be nice and polite when I decline to answer your questions...
"I ran out of weapons-grade plutonium" could conceivably be regarded as a bad answer, then. The problem is that if there *are* citizen terrorists (which by now there surely must be) the repressive right wing are trying to fix the last decades' problems in the present.
It's too late! The only way is to have everyone love the US. If you [the US government] can't figure out a way to have that happen then maybe it's time to revisit the way we distribute resources around here.
why is it that the English-speaking countries are the ones where the border people seem to thing they have to interrogate everyone? I've never been asked a question going into China. Only once, entering Belgium, the guy asked me if I was on business and waved me through. But my god, try entering the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and it's 20 questions about your life.
So, those with the verdict that this guys is an asshole, what is your verdict on blacks who sat at lunch counters and at the front of buses? I do not equate the importance of these to a minor boarder(guard) skirmish, but they seem very similar.
A lot of innocent or at least well-meaning people are in jail or prison because they answered a police officer's questions or consented to a search.
I recall one situation involving a false police report and my local gendarme where they wanted to search my vehicle. I knew from both training and experience that having gained access they would immediately go through all my stuff for hours, leave them dumped in a loose pile if I were lucky, break anything that could be easily broken up to and including CDs, and quite possibly pocket a choice item or two.
(Yes, there are cops who steal stuff. Really. LAPD Internal Affairs has video of one cop who matter of factly stole a stick of gum while investigating a robbery.)
I refused consent to search about ten times in all. They were frustrated and angry and ultimately had no choice but to let me go.
I'm not betting my freedom that one of them didn't have a drop gun or a baggie full of illegal substances they were willing to part with to make my day that much worse.
Chris Rock has a nice video where he suggests, tongue in cheek, that you frisk your friends before letting them into you car. He's not that far off. It's titled "How Not To Get Your ### Beat By The Police."
If you think you live where such things would never happen, you don't.
Brit Customs Official: "Do you have anything to declare, sir?"
Hyde: "Man has not evolved an inch from the slime that spawned him:"
Brit Customs Official: "Thank you, sir."
From Jekyll and Hyde - Together Again
All you need to know. :-)
In Australia and NZ, returning citizens can use passport self-scanners & camera gates for immigration and customs. You'll only be verbally asked questions if you raise a flag.
"[S]uspicious behavior"? Suspicious of what? If you act abnormal or uncompliant, the police can suspect you of something illegal?
The implication of what you are saying is terrifying: that standing up for one's rights is suspicious.
"The implication of what you are saying is terrifying: that standing up for one's rights is suspicious."
It is if you're the only one doing it.
@ grande mocha
Is it the implyor,
or who is offering what is implied about,
that then qualifies the act as terrorism,
and therefore is a terrorist? ;-)
I'm just not clear on this.
If I'm terrified of something you might do,
that you have yet to accomplish,
who is the terrorist,
what decides it,
and who drives that decision?
If it is harming the unmilitant innocent,
who are not uniformed to accept the risk,
you are a terrorist -
if you intended it.
It is still a criminal or negligent or valid military act, whatever,
if you didn't intend it to harm those innocent of risking your attack.
There is a legal concept of prongs,
some combination or all need to be satisfied to qualify something.
Hence a terrorist threat,
or as terrorist act,
Those looking back often impute intent to get the real outcome,
presuming mental and legal competence.
[An elephant was executed once after being tried for homicide.]
Let's try for clarity, shall we?
Admittedly, this has all been muddled by
seemingly 'irrational behavior'
by 'suicidal crazies'
who caused lots of casualties.
But to allow irrationality to define
'terrorism' is more than definition 'creep';
it is definition predation.
Or, so it seems to me.
I've even been asked about living in or visiting specific US cities upon return into the US.
Talk about creepy.....
I talked to some military buddies about this, and none of them experienced same. We laughed it off, but damn. I'm still confused.
This might not have changed anything, but he could have started with a slightly less confrontational intro.
"Why were you in China?"
"Why do you ask?"
The Other Andrew: "I refused consent to search about ten times in all. They were frustrated and angry and ultimately had no choice but to let me go. I'm not betting my freedom that one of them didn't have a drop gun or a baggie full of illegal substances they were willing to part with to make my day that much worse."
But they did have a choice. They could have ignored the fact that you refused consent, searched you anyway, and then lied about whether you gave consent. They could have lied about more things and charged you with disorderly conduct or something else, just to teach you not to play lawyer. A dashcam makes this sort of thing more difficult for them, which is a good reason for dashcams, but there are ways around those too. (Oops, it was off. Oops, the footage was deleted.)
You even assumed one of the officers might have planted evidence during a search. That's a serious crime. But at the same time, you assumed they wouldn't ever lie about whether you gave consent? Or arrest you on trumped up charges to punish you for asserting your rights? After the fact, it looks like these officers followed the rules, but you couldn't know they would do that ahead of time.
I've seen the "don't talk to cops" video. It's excellent.
"None of your business" is a confrontational statement that makes people feel insulted.
If you feel that talking to the cops will only hurt you... just look at this guy. He refused, and got taken away. And the millions of others who give a mundane sightseeing/travel/visiting friends/business response breeze through. Conclusion?
What you think should be the case, and what is the case, are not always the same.
@Paeniteo "So... How would you phrase it?
And, given your phrasing, do you think the guard would react any differently from the case at hand?"
I would phrase it something like this: "As a US citizen entering the United States, I respectfully assert my right to decline to answer."
The outcome may have been the same, except for the part where the Internet labels the guy who refused to answer as a jerk.
The problem with saying 'on business' is that the next question might be 'what business, with whom, to what purpose' etc. At what point do you decide to start exercising your rights? If you answer the first question, later refusal will seem a lot more suspicious and will probably cost you more than 90 minutes.
As a Finnish citizen (and not a US citizen) my experiences with immigration officers have always been good. Having said that, non-US-citizen is in practice obliged to answer all questions. Otherwise it is easier for the immigrationm officer to just send the traveller back.
In that case it is probably wise to not answer questions directly but stating related facts:
Q: Is your trip for business or pleasure?
A: I am attending RSA conference at ...
Q: Where do you stay during your visit?
A: I have a hotel reservation at ...
etc. This might lower the risk of (unintennionally) lying and getting into trouble.
"The officer led me into a waiting room with about thirty chairs. Six other people were waiting."
Ahhhh ...the good ol' Group W bench... still around doing it's thing.
@Ned: My contention is that "none of your business" is a perfectly descriptive response to that question when your goal is to not give up that information and that the CBP had no right to detain him further because of that response. (They had every right to search him as law allows, of course, but to detain him specifically "until he cools down" is the problem and should be considered unlawful arrest/false imprisonment or something similar.)
(Sorry for the double)
@alo: "I am attending the RSA conference at..."
What if there's evidence that you also took a side trip to the next town over? Perhaps the CBP agent mis-identified a piece of your luggage as tourist kitsch that could be purchased there. Now why are you hiding that you went there?
"I have a hotel reservation at..."
And if the next town over is far enough away that it would've been unreasonable for a day trip? (Remember, the CBP agent mis-identified that you went there -- you didn't actually go there, he just thinks you did.) Obviously you stayed somewhere else as well. Why are you hiding that?
Both of those questions can result in the CBP agent believing you have lied to him. "None of your business" or a similar non-answer cannot.
@ BF Skinner,
"Ahhhh ...the good ol' Group W bench..."
All together sing,
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant,
You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant.
Walk right in,
It's around the back.
Just a halfa mile from the railroad track.
You can get anything you want at Alices restaurant (excepting Alice)....
(I could type it all in but somebody would object and I'd get a knock on the door...
Speaking of which have you heard about the slightly inebriated British 17 yearold student Luke Angel who sent POTUS a rude message (atleast he likened him to the male not female organ).
Somebody in or around the White House threw the toys out the pram, and ordered the FBI in on it. The Student gets awakened by a couple of UK Police officers who take his photo (probably illegaly) and tell him the US has baned him for life...
No wonder people say BeltWay BonnaBrains have no sense of humor...
"Nota bene: folks who kiss your ass are not your friends. The waitress who says "have a nice day" really doesn't care whether you have a nice day (and you should probably double-check that check). The employee who's unfailingly polite, comes in early and stays late? Yeah, he's the one robbing you -- not the guy who bitches if you ask for free overtime."
Or there are some of us who try to be polite and would rather be early than late - and who do not lie, cheat, steal nor tolerate those who do. I feel bad for you if you go through life always suspecting anyone who shows a shred of common decency towards their fellow man.
Exercising rights is, uh, a right. However, it might be a bit better if it was focused in a way to actually change things. The person is allowed to ask the questions, but he is also required by management to do so. Unless one is planning to organize a concerted effort in the trenches (and also involve your representatives), it isn't going to make one bit of difference, other than pissing off a couple of folks.
Oh, and most government employees are not out to bone you. Let's keep that risk in perspective. And if they are, the "do not talk to them" advice isn't going to work too well...
@Paeniteo: So... How would you phrase it? And, given your phrasing, do you think the guard would react any differently from the case at hand?
I would have recommended phrasing it that "I'm not required to answer questions since I've provided proof of U.S. citizenship and a customs declaration."
I would have just answered "I was on vacation" or "at a conference" etc. I would not have recommended refusal, but if one had their heart set on refusal, that is how I would recommend they do so. It probably would have got them detained anyway, but their odds are being better without being confrontational.
Sort of like how when a cop asks if he can search your trunk, answering "i do not consent to a search," will irritate him, but your better off than saying "it's none of your business what's in my trunk."
It's a matter of degree.
I am just beginning to read your blog a bit. I find it pretty interesting so far.
"U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration are not obligated to answer questions. "
How do you go about finding laws(?) like this? Is there a website? A place to look in the library?
I think finding out what the law really says often seems like an insurmountable task to private citizens (or at least to me.)
My wife, 1 year old daughter and I were put through secondary inspection at Toronto International on our way back to the US recently because the immigration dickhead that interviewed us at the counter thought we were declaring too little stuff even though we had 6 bags. (Yes, if you are returning through Canada, immigration/customs happens in Canada as opposed to the US.)
It was a terrible experience. I missed my connection and got home about 6 hours later than planned. Highlights of my experience:
1) We waited for about 45 minutes with 3-4 other passengers in secondary inspection, where 1 officer was searching everyone's bags (with breaks in between) and 3 other personnel were standing around visibly doing nothing.
2) Cameras, PDAs, cell phones were not allowed in the area. (Obviously, they did not want anyone to film the 3 idle personnel there.) When I **respectfully** asked one officer if I could check my itinerary on my PDA, he basically said no and added that I should be worried if the CBP would even allow my family into the US in the first place. I was in a state of disbelief to say anything back. (I can still hear Cartman's echoing voice: "Respect my authority!"). I am a green card holder, and my wife and daughter are US-born Citizens.
3) There was no place for my wife to nurse our daughter, and there were no family restrooms with changing tables.
All in all, it was a sh!tty experience.
What I learned from this blog post and everyone's comments is that I can be a total dick to CBP when I return to the US *after* I become a naturalized US Citizen.
I resolve to do it with pride, and I will do it time and again after I become a US Citizen. I will show them that this country is not the Soviet Union (excluding Guantanamo) and that the government needs to be scared of people, not the other way around.
Thanks to the guy for showing the world that it's okay to be a dick to the CBP.
After several years of being a tax-paying resident of the US, I returned from a trip to my home country Australia to be told at immigration "when we give you residency we expect you to stay here ALL THE TIME" (his emphasis).
I hadn't realised that residency and internment were the same thing.
@Alex Hoffnung "How do you go about finding laws(?) like this? Is there a website? A place to look in the library? "
I'm not promising it'll be easy just the truth. I've calibrated this for US law.
Ah the wonder and majesty of the law!
The best way is probably law school but if you don't have 2 years, a bachelors degree AND 36 grand and want the whole self study diy route...
Try some opencourseware/university sites like http://oedb.org/library/features/... (lots of lectures on youtube and ItunesU search "law" "legal")
Go Broad and general first (I always start a new topic with the Complete Idiot's or Dummies Guide series).
The Law has rules and structures. No they don't make sense a lot of the time but there _are_ rules...like a computer game...some can be bent others broken. Wikipedia is your friend here.
Reread the U.S. Constitution http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/constitution/ - but don't let it get you in trouble...been a lot of work done in the last 2 and half centuries. Don't listen to people who claim to be Sovereign Citizens. They are dangerous and could get you killed. Redemption movement ditto.
You'll need to learn the difference between common, statory and regulatory law; US vs State, Civil vs Criminal, felony vs misdemenor, trial vs appelate. What standing is, specious reasoning, circular logic, study rhetoroic (not a dirty word just used by dirty people) and so on.
Then learn the catalog system so when an article cites Ohio Revised Code § 2919.25 or USC Title 18 Sec 3 you know it's a direction to a particular title section and paragraph of the legal code (those big fat red leather bound books in the background of the commercials for The Cochran Firm).
You don't need to shell out for those since the code is online now. I use Cornell at
www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/ and Findlaw www.findlaw.com is my favorite but the official site is uscode.house.gov/.
Then if it's a specific issue you're interested in search first for blogs pro and con. If its law there's bound to be argumentation over it. Start with the ACLU, EFF.org, and other civil rights advocates.
Laws being debated in congress are supposed to be posted by GPO and published in the Congressional register but I use OpenCongress.org to track bills of interest. Bills are changes to US Code...additions, deletions, modifications.
Once a law is finally passed you can bet it will be challanged. The challanges start at the bottom and work their way up through appeals to Circuit Courts (http://www.findlaw.com/10fedgov/judicial/district_courts.html). Findlaw has a nice district court opinion summary search broken down by topic and court at http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/index.html
The Circuit court is as low as i generally go. I'm not a lawyer. In the Judiciary the courts are independent (oh yeah, fer sure, the gummint is this solid mass of scheming parkies with unity of purpose out to deny me my rights. sure my ass)
...and so you'll need to search for their opinions on different web sites. For instance the Southern WV court publishes their opinions here http://www.wvsd.uscourts.gov/district/opinions/ other courts have their own and there's always Findlaw.
Supreme Court Decisions are searcable here http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/supreme.html
Learn to read legal. Like any specialist legalologists have defined a comprehensive set of jargon (much of it in latin) to communicate quickly with their peers. simple paragraphs are usually closely bundled concepts of assumptions that have to be teased apart and are usually both self and externally referential. Fun!
Congratulations. You've taken your first step into a larger world.
I don't get how he was allowed to board the plane.
He had luggage. So the people at the check-in (or the self check-in machine) definitely asked him at least the "did you pack it yourself?"
If he had a similar reply than to those officers, his belongings would at least had to have a very detailed search. Or possibly he wouldn't have been allowed to board.
Or if he answered to the airline employees questions, then... what makes them so different from the law enforcement?
@ BF Skinner:
That is a wonderful post full of great information and resources. However, I would like to add a cautionary note.
One should be familiar with the PATRIOT Act, versions I and II. A number of individual rights and civil liberties can be restricted under this act. The legality of such have not been clarified by the courts as yet, but they are taking place. Tread lightly unless you have competent legal counsel.
@dbCooper "cautionary note"
We'll catch you yet db. No matter how quiet you are.
good point. Patriot and some other draconions measures are Advanced, and Scary, topics.
Only act on legal advice from a competent lawyer you have on retainer. It's not that their opinioin is particularly any better or will win the day (lawyers make a good living in the space created by "it can be argued") but at least if they screw you, you can sue them for malpractice.
Do these questions actually catch anyone? It seems to me a drug-trafficker would just say "for vacation"...
Ok, those are his rights. But maybe: "I decline to answer this question as I am not obligated to do so as a US citizen" would have been better. Nothing wrong with being polite.
@BlueRaja "It seems to me a drug-trafficker would just say 'for vacation'..."
yeah, exactly. the guy who says "i'm going to make a fuss and get your attention" is prob not the one you're looking for. he's the decoy.
@Errolwi "NZ, returning citizens can use passport self-scanners & camera gates for immigration and customs"
That's new. After days or weeks away and hours in a cramped airplane seat in a tin can that was almost always too hot, too crowded and just generally unhealthy, I used to get a warm feeling when the immigration officer stamped my NZ passport and give me a cheery "Welcome home"
>> But they did have a choice. They could have ignored the fact that you refused consent, searched you anyway, and then lied about whether you gave consent.
This is exactly why it is so vital that evidence gathered through illegal search be the 'fruit of the poisoned tree' and excluded. My lawyer would have a field day with lies about consent to search.
>> They could have lied about more things and charged you with disorderly conduct or something else, just to teach you not to play lawyer.
I'm NOT playing lawyer. I am exercising my Constitutional Rights (caps on purpose). They can cite or arrest for anything they want, but it is a judge or jury (my choice) which determines guilt or innocence.
If I can prove that police conspired to deprive me of my civil rights, that is a Federal felony under 18 USC 242, and in civil Federal court I can sue for damages under 42 USC 1983. Police agencies know this and cities and counties have had to write multi-million dollar checks as a result.
>> A dashcam makes this sort of thing more difficult for them, which is a good reason for dashcams, but there are ways around those too. (Oops, it was off. Oops, the footage was deleted.)
'Oops' tends to be treated quite harshly by the courts.
>> Officers lying about consent or arresting on trumped-up charges . . .
They can do that. It is my civic duty as a law-abiding person to take the arrest peacefully and sue in civil court and/or defend myself from criminal charges later.
The police only follow the rules when there are consequences to breaking the rules. Those who would 'free the police to do their job' should keep this in mind.
I reposted Knifetricks' original essays on my blog and got a little visit from the DHS on my site today:
I wonder if they have agents whose job it is to reply to anything anyone posts that is critical of the DHS in order to intimidate them, or whether somebody simply had too much time on her hands.
>>What I took away from the description of the incident is that the customs employees did their jobs correctly and professionally.
>>Part of their mandate is to look for suspicious behavior, and the poster was clearly acting suspiciously (albeit legally).
Actually, the agents knowingly acted in a illegal manner, which I would not consider a professional manner. CBP officers knew that detaining Mr. Lukacas was not permitted, and holding his bags without an "articulable grounds for suspicion" and refusal to answer questions does _**not**_ constitute reasonable suspicion. Further, it is considered an illegal seizure if a reasonable person would conclude that they were not free to leave -- on more than one occasion the CBP officials responded to a "May I leave now" query with a "no". Unfortunately for the CBP, both the law and jurisprudence make it clear that CBP cannot deny entry to an American citizen once he (or she) has presented valid proof of citizenship.
>>Therefore, his case was passed up the seniority chain until someone with enough authority could vet him and then clear him through the system. He annoyed the customs people and wasted their time, so they returned the favor. That's more of a human interaction issue rather than a legal issue.
>>Really, though, a 90 minute delay on an international flight is a *small* delay!
Umm... remember your argument the next time you are stopped by police and you need to be "passed up the seniority chain until someone with enough authority could vet [you] and then clear [you] through the system". I, on the other hand want the officer stopping me to understand that the exercise of my rights is _not_suspicious_, and that the right to detain me requires more than my non-compliance. I also do not want LEOs performing detention of law abiding citizens because they annoyed the officer. If you think that is OK, please feel free to move to North Korea, they operate under the same principles you espouse.
Rights not exercised are rights lost. Let us not also forget that there is no useful result from the questions -- they are theater, not security.
@wulfila "I wonder if they have agents whose job it is to reply to anything anyone posts that is critical of the DHS in order to intimidate them,"
Likely not, or they would have used non-attributible network addresses that you wouldn't have been able to Identify her with.
She seemed like what the governement is. A lot of regular people trying to do their jobs well either in civil service or contracted labor and really resent the tone and critisms that are based on amplified internet misinformation echos.
As you said yourself. She wasn't mean or snarky in her comments. If DHS had such a group and I was on it, Me? I'd've immediately attacked you over the confusion of 4th and 5th ammendments. In an attempt to belittle and show you weren't informed on this topic so shouldn't be read on any topic.
Isn't the opposite true? If you knew about Tor, you would choose NOT to use it if you were DHS trying to intimidate someone, because no one is frightened by being questioned by a private citizen but everyone starts wondering if they'll end up on a no-fly list or get waterboarded if the DHS starts cruising their page. (I know I am).
Thanks for sharing the link to your blog and conversation with Aundrea. It's no secret that I'm close to the Memphis area, so a connection to their fun roller derby girls just jumped off the page for me. I bet I've met her at some point. Small world.
I liked how Ed busted her out by showing her the value of privacy. With that much information, anyone could ruin her life. The CBP agents have plenty of info and even more power over people they run into. You'd think she'd make the mental connection between her own fears and the fears of those in a much more serious situation who want their privacy respected.
The last good point of your blog post was that you posted the Don't Talk to Cops video. I just found that excellent presentation yesterday and was mass mailing it to tons of people. Then, a blog mentions it and nails someone in my area. The situation was both intriguing and strange. Thanks again for the good read.
@ BF Skinner
Wulfila's fifth amendment mistake was my first criticism too, as it undermined her credibility. I do agree that many in the government are like that, but I disagree on the notion of "echoing Internet misinformation." That's rubbish. It happens, but there are more *real* power grabs, abuses, etc. by TSA and CBP than misinformation. Even in misinformation, it often parallels real anecdotes.
So, a blogger mentioning religious profiling, constant harassment and celebrating their newfound right to remain silent doesn't seem to give legitimate reason for TSA/CBP people to be pissed off. If anything, Aundrea just shows TSA/CBP disregards people's basic constitutional rights to their own ends. That they care not about legal requirements and supreme court rulings shows that they deserve every criticism and bit of legal resistance they get. Let's not get started on the fact that asking a crook why he left the US almost never leads to actionable intelligence... The protocol self-selects, by design, law abiding people for wasted time or extra screening.
I caught the mistake myself, and I felt like an idiot for making it. But rather than making silent corrections I thought it would be kinder to the DHS rep to make a public retraction and point out that everyone can make these mistakes, as she had felt I was condescending in lecturing her about civics earlier. I really don't know why I'm being so courteous.
I've been speaking with other researchers in my academic department today, and uncovered some more profiling horror stories - my advisor appears to have a three-inch intelligence file consisting (he hopes!) of data derived from secondary screening over decades of frequent religious studies research travel in South Asia.
Some colleagues at other institutions (non-white, Muslim) have stopped doing primary ethnographic research at all and confine themselves to library research because they are subject to such interference when crossing international borders. I'm trying to arrange a conversation with the Islamic studies faculty member to learn about his experiences.
I get pegged alot. As a Department of State contractor, I get sent to all the nastiest places, but since I am not an official government employee I don't get an official passport to travel on. I always say this. Very politely. "I am sorry, but I have answered on the customs declaration all the questions I am legally required to answer. You are a Law enforcement officer, and as an American citizen I am exercising my Constitutionally guaranteed right to not answer your questions. If you would like to place me in custody, I will happily contact a lawyer, and you can explain why you have singled me out for detainment. Otherwise please allow me to pass."
About half the time the guy is so bowled over he lets me go. The other half I am "selected" for a hand baggage search. I usually have long layovers, so I don't care. Screwing with the minimum wage losers that now inhabit airport security and ICE passes the time. At least when they were private security they knew they were cop wannabe losers, now they all have badges, and think they have arrived. I have never had less respect for a body of government workers than I do for TSA and the new iteration of ICE.
Of course if your going to be an asshole to the mindless thugs, be DAMN sure you don't have any Cuban cigars etc...
@wulfila " make a public retraction and point out that everyone can make these mistakes"
Which did restore your crediability on this point to me, but if I had been detailed to attack it wouldn't have mattered I wouldn't have acknowledged the correction.
And I considered there actually is a legit 5th ammendment argument to be made about not talking to LEOs. I mean why not talk? Self incrimination. So I gave you both the benefit of the doubt on the point.
I was asked questions which made me think about the stupidity of the imigration officers.
1. Do you have your Driver's License?! Ins't Passport enough?
2. When was the last time you were in the Country? Can't they read the stamps?
3.when did you turn a US Citizen"? Look at the date in the Pass.
Please Imigration Offices get the real criminals.
@ Nick P,
"'It's no secret that I'm close to the Memphis area"
Well it isn't now ;)
And I will use it as a weak excuse to go offtopic and ask if you where in Orlando for"The NSA Trusted Computing Conference and Exposition"
From the little so far put up by the press it appears to have been an interesting event,
"Well, it isn't now. ;)"
It never was. If I wanted privacy, I'd use a pseudonym. My name is more unique and trackable than yours. I also use the posts as part of my resume. Add the fact that I'm proud of my heritage and I have no reason to hide my general location. ZIP code, specific city (Memphis is 4-5 cities) and street? Well, that's a bit more private. ;)
On the Conference
Thanks for the link. I didn't go as I couldn't afford another conference. The NSA and I are often at odds with regards to our goals. Aside from Intel SMM mode protection, the conference literally offered nothing new. Almost every offering has been around in some form or another for several years, esp. GD's HAP/TVE that I mentioned on this blog a year ago.
The real nuggets to take home from what I read are these: NSA is relying on COTS for sensitive information; NSA hopes to rely entirely on COTS; NSA strongly promotes TPM and TNE in COTS products; NSA is leveraging trusted software on untrustworthy processors; NSA hopes to reduce accreditation time for these untrustworthy COTS components. To be honest, I'm not really comfortable with any of these points. Brian Snow's work made me think the NSA was making progress in the right direction. Now I know better.
Excellent post. I mean who does this arrogant prick think he is… actually exercising his right to not answer their questions. He should just bend over and follow their orders like a good little slave.
No big drama here. I would advise however not carrying like that when either arriving or departing Tel Aviv.
Yes, the Israeli's will probably exercise their right to offer arrogant travelers free Krav Maga lessons on the comfortable linoleum and concrete floors. ;)
@ Nick P,
I admit I am saddened by the NSA's recent moves but it also reflects a cold commercial reality within the politiking of federal fund grabs.
To be honest the nuts and bolts of security as you, I and Brian Snow et al would understand is being quietly ushered out the back door.
Part of it is the choice of decision makers to follow the bandwagon that is Federal Anti-terror funding and part their inability to understand where security threats come from and why.
It also shows clearly their recent land grab on APT and Cyber-Warfare.
The hard won lessons of EmSec appear to have evaporated as the shift of the Neo-Con focus from Communist Block Cold War to Middle East Hot War.
Although I'm sure COTS motherboard systems will run the software, I know for certain that as far as EmSec is concerned COTS is a very very leaky to the point of being worse than usless. That is such things as manufactures using Spread Spectrum clocks to meet emission masks as opposed to R/L C filtering and adiquate sheilding actually make an attackers life oh so much simpler.
I could go on at length but... I know you've heard it all before 8)
@ Clive Robinson
The EMSEC issue bothers me because it's becoming a major academic focus and more attacks are sure to come. Malware has been spotted exploiting processor bugs and other esoteric issues that were previously only the concern of high assurance systems. As more smart cards and smart devices appear, covert channels become more important.
The shift of focus to Middle Eastern terrorists is of major importance. We should certainly adapt to the tactics, strengths and weaknesses of our new enemies. However, I fear if we entirely toss out the old forms of security, designed to counter nation-states, we will open ourselves up to them more than ever. We've already lost so much corporate intellectual property and classified info (e.g. nuclear data) because of improper controls and security. Forgetting the competing countries whose intelligence agencies are more active than ever will result in a steady stream of losses. We must defend against all serious enemies, not just those in the news the most.
@ Nick P,
It's not just "Nation States" today it's large corperates as well. Also the question of "which" Nation States and why.
Some years ago now the exiting head of the French Secret Service was asked about Nation State's spying on companies etc.
He made the very valid point the the cheapest form of R&D was to steal from your competitors, and that a healthy industrial base in your country is part of National Security. The American Journalist asked another question and the French head made the admission that France as a Nation State routienly spyed on forign competitors for it's National Industries, but more importantly implicated other Nations.
Later it was shown that the crash of the Russian "Koncordsky" TU-144,
At the Paris Air Show (Le Bourget) back in 1973 was very probably as a result of French military aircraft flying in a way that you would expect if they where trying to get covert Intel on flight dynamics.
The British and the French both reasonably suspected that the TU-144 was built as a result of Russian espionage on the British design team. Analysis of the TU-144 wreakage showed this to be true.
Both Britain and France used to derive considerable income and prestige by the exports of military hardware to "other nations". At one point I was involved with such things and know of an occasion where a combat radio system was being trialed by a forign nation and it was known that the French where also bidding for the work. During the trial the British system suddenly started to suffer from problems and "deafness".
It was discovered that strange eminations where appearing during the test which where definatly hampering the system performance.
Lets just say that a group of highly spirited young engineers tracked the source of the emissions down. And that one of the engineers had access to some interesting pyrotechnics (electricaly detonated diver recalls etc) and knew how to modify and enhance them to good effect.
The result was some quite serious "accidental" damage to a vehical of some very odd looking French speaking male only tourists. That from the ashes of their vehical liked to take some very sophisticated (not so) "amateur radio" equipment and all the "test gear" not just to repair it but build it anew with them.
Just coincidentaly the problems the British bid team where having just vanished at the same time as the fire.
Sometimes those that seek to do us most harm are our supposed friends for whom winning at any cost is the name of the game.
We should not be surprised at this as we see it in our everyday lives where latent psychopaths work their way to the top of large corporates. Sometimes we call them "Alpha Males" most often we are less polite in private. That strange "Americanisum" of "It's a war out there" is a little less strange than many realise when the get a look at the underbelly.
One thing that realy saddens me is that we may be doing it to ourselves in that we have fallen into an "out sourcing" trap where not only do we destroy our own industrial base we also willingly give away our R&D secrets for less than nothing, just so the next quaters figures give improved "shareholder" value. And our Politico's believe this is good as we don't need "messy industry with it's labour relations issues" but "service industries" working in the "information economy".
Over here in Britain for instance "Vince Cable" has just recently proposed that we cut funding to research carried out by UK Universities to get us over our current economic difficulties...
Sometimes it beggers belief in just how out of touch and ridiculous our "political" lords and master's are. University R&D is the UK's speciality we punch many many times above our weight. Arguably it is our only asset of any worth left in the countries store cupboard. I for one know the effects of a "brain drain" that happened many years ago it took over a quater of a century to claw our way back it would be stupidity beyond measure to repeate that mistake.
Speaking of nation state spying on other "friendly" nations, Israel is at the top of the list.
There's a reason Israel's military finances much of their information technology and security corporations. Israel long ago realized that the best way to spy on other countries was to be the country that produced all the spy gear countries used to spy on themselves and others.
Israel companies were deeply involved in US CALEA wiretapping technology used by the DoJ until they got caught selling wiretap info to LA drug gangs, and the FBI had a conniption fit over it.
Anyone who buys security or surveillance technology from Israel is just begging for a backdoor.
@ Richard Steven Hack
Good point. It's why I haven't used anything with their Gold cryptosystem. They have also been mentioned as chief opponents in official (restricted) US government documents and I believe they were mentioned in the leaked UK MOD security manual. I know Russia and China were acknowledged there, but my memory is fuzzy about Israel. It doesn't hurt that Israel's military and economy receive tens of billions a year in aid. It's funny how we finance our enemies' work.
"It's funny how we finance our enemies' work."
It's funny how people define their enemies and benefactors, really.
Other countries are different. I went to Australia and they asked me if I had a criminal record. I got kinda nervous and said, "Um... is that still a requirement?"
I heartily recommend investing in a Sandisk Sansa clip MP3 player. It is about the size of 2 postage stamps in length, one in width, and about the size of a USB connector in width.
It is truly a high quality player (check Google) and, funnily enough, will record excellent audio for 8+ hours on a charge with its sensitive microphone. When on, it shows no evidence of being so. And it appears to be an MP3 player.
Good for documenting treatment.
Most comments are split between 'Exercising my right to silence" and "Demanding my right to silence".
There is a huge and fundamental difference between being polite and saying "I am exercising my right to not answer that question" and being a jerk saying "None of your business!".
Most of those advocating the latter also argue that "my actions could be not-suspicious therefore you don't have reasonable grounds to search me" (a spurious and irrelevant point of view).
Please don't forget that the officer is still a human - but also a human in uniform, so higher up the legal food-chain than you are.
@ Z constantine
"It's funny how people define their enemies and benefactors, really."
A useless comment to get your blog some notice, perhaps? Skimming an article or two, the purpose is obvious as the author of that blog would seem to agree with me. Let's break it down just for kicks. Benefactor: provide a benefit to me (preferrably one I want). Enemies: a threat, realized or potential, but worth considering. Israel: provides no benefits to me that I can't get from more trustworthy individuals; spies on and backdoors US assets when possible. On the scale from benefactor to enemy, I think it's obvious where Israel leans in I.T. matters. Their citizens might become benefactors through careful development methods, but their government is an enemy that mooches off of us and has a few common interests.
The truth is that border police work is boring,and hopefully most of us have a disdain for inquiries that appear to be non relevant.I hope that we as U.S. Citizens remain annoyed and that customs,immigrations remains suspicous.This is a good match complacency of either is dangerous.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.