U.S. Customs Opening International Mail

Reuters is reporting that Customs and Border Protection is opening international mail coming into the U.S. without warrant.

Sadly, this is legal.

Congress passed a trade act in 2002, 107 H.R. 3009, that expanded the Custom Service's ability to open international mail. Here's the beginning of Section 344:

(1) In general.--For purposes of ensuring compliance with the Customs laws of the United States and other laws enforced by the Customs Service, including the provisions of law described in paragraph (2), a Customs officer may, subject to the provisions of this section, stop and search at the border, without a search warrant, mail of domestic origin transmitted for export by the United States Postal Service and foreign mail transiting the United States that is being imported or exported by the United States Postal Service.

If I remember correctly, the ACLU was able to temper the amendment, and this language is better than what the government originally wanted.

Domestic First Class mail is still private; the police need a warrant is to open it. But there is a lower standard for Media Mail and the like, and a lower standard for "mail covers": the practice of collecting address information from the outside of the envelope.

Posted on January 16, 2006 at 6:43 AM • 105 Comments

Comments

SundarJanuary 16, 2006 7:47 AM

>Sadly, this is legal.

Yes. Sadly, we have to live with it. Breach of privacy has become a common place in the US post-9/11. NSA can strip you anywhere they want and Customs can open your mail, w/o warrent. I read in novels that such a situation prevailed in Soviet Russia during cold war and it is happening now here in the US.

TankJanuary 16, 2006 8:27 AM

Sundar, nothing you refer to started after 9/11.
When this story was first widely reported a week or so ago there was no shortage of accounts from people relating that this has always occurred dependant on the foreign nation involved.

Arturo QuirantesJanuary 16, 2006 8:42 AM

So you guys fought a bitter and costly Cold War, just to end up living like the Soviets. Hear that rumble? It's Stalin laughing in his grave!

Kind regards, comrades.

some free guyJanuary 16, 2006 8:42 AM

I thought America was the land of the free?? These days it looks more like 'the land of the prisons'

havvokJanuary 16, 2006 8:45 AM

>I thought America was the land of the free??
>These days it looks more like 'the land of the prisons'

America is free!

Free from privacy, free from rights, free from accountability....

AGJanuary 16, 2006 8:55 AM

We can;

A. Play nice and roll over letting the aggressors around the world take over.

B. Fight and fight dirty to spread the American ideals to all corners of the world.

Just a thought

UnixroninJanuary 16, 2006 9:04 AM

C. Maintain the ideals our nation was founded on so that the rhetoric of freedom we spout worldwide remains more than empty rhetoric, instead of doing the terrorists' work for them.

GuillermitoJanuary 16, 2006 9:21 AM

I don't know about simple letters, but I can tell you about small parcels. Every time someone tried to send me some food survival kit from France, it ends up *without* the sausage, and with a nice piece of official paper (inside the cardboard parcel) informing me - more or less - that "a piece of meat from unknown origin has been destroyed". It happened twice in a row. So I guess customs officer and the Department of Homeland Security are probably very good at catching bombs, because they trained on my sausages. I think I may be on a "gourmet food" watchlist :)

Felix DzerzhinskyJanuary 16, 2006 9:26 AM

Freedom Is Slavery,Ignorance Is Strength

“I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.��? — George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States

Welcome to 1984...a few years late!

DanJanuary 16, 2006 11:50 AM

It is much much much worse than you all think. As far as I know, this legislation is still in effect :

Taken From the Wall Street Journal, Friday March 5th 2004, Page A14

Repeal the Patriot Act : By Andrew P Napolitano

Earlier this week when President Bush asked Congress to enact the portions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the endd of next year, he provoked a critical review of the controversial law. Those who believe that our freedoms are guaranteed and cannot be legislated away by Congress remain committed to the repeal - not the renewal - of this overreaching legislation.
The Constitution prohibts invasions of privacy by the government by denying it the power to engage in unreasonable searches and seizures absent a warrant issued upon probable cause. Prior to Sept 11, 2001, we could actually enjoy that right. But in October 2001, the Patriot Act changed all this. In addition to other violations of the Constitution which it purports to sanction, the Act authorizes Intelligence agencies to give what they obtain without probable cause to prosecutors; and it authorizes prosecutors to use the information thus recieved in ordinary criminal prosecutions. Even worse, the custodians of the records are now prohibited from telling you that your records were sought or surrendered.
This is more than just academic. if the government can get evidence against you from your financial institution under the guise of national security - i.e., without a showing of probable cause - but use it in a criminal case against you, then the Constitution's guarantees have been shredded. But you know that already.
What most americans don't know is that on Dec. 13, 2003, the right to privacy suffered another serious blow. On that day, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, President Bush signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004. This statute expands the term "financial institution" so as to include travel agencies and car dealers, casinos and hotels, real estate and insurance agents and lawyers, news stands and pawn brokers, and even the Post Office.
Now, without you knowing it, the Justice Department can learn where you traveled, what you spent, what you ate, what you paid to finance your car and your house, what you confided to your lawyer and insurance and real estate agents, and what periodicals you read without having to demonstrate any evidence or even suspicion of criminal activity on your part. And the government can now, for the first time in American history, without obtaining the approval of a court, read your mail before you do, and prosecute you on the basis of what it reads. (Of course, if the government doesn't prosecute you, you'll likely never even know that it has invaded your privacy.)
None of this was supposed to have happened. The tools Congress gave to intelligence agencies are only constitutional when used just for intelligence purposes - like watching or deporting foreign spys - and only against genuine foreign threats. When criminal prosecution is implicated, the Constitution's protections are triggered.
Most Americans don't want the government to know of their personal behavior, not because we have anything to hide, but because without probable cause, without some demonstrable evidence of some personal criminal behavior, the Constitution declares that our personal lives are none of the federal government's business.
Government is not reason or eloquence, George Washington once said, it is force. That's why we have a Constitution: to restrain the bovernment's exercise of force so we can be a free people. Government surveillance undermines freedom because it is natural to hesitate to exercise freedom when the government is watching and recording. Numerous Supreme Court decisions have underscored this by holding that freedom needs breathing room. With the government's eyes in our hotel rooms, lawyers' offices and mailboxes, freedom will suffocate.
In his famous dissent in 'Olmstead', Justice Brandeis called privacy - which he defined as "the right to be let alone" - "the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." Brandeis argued that the framers knew that Americans wanted protection from governmental intrusion not only for their property but also for their thoughts, ideas and emotions. Many current members of Congress and the Justice Department, it would appear, disagree, since they have continued their inexorable erosion of this most basic right.

Mr. Napolitano, a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey from 1987 to 1995, is the senior judicial analyst with the Fox News Channel.

DavidJanuary 16, 2006 12:22 PM

@AG

Who thinks there's any entity -- besides the U.S. -- is that can seriously be considered to be ready to "take over the world."

Are we really to believe that Al Qaeda is that serious a threat? There were 6 years or so between the two attacks against the WTC. Al Qaeda clearly doesn't have much of a presence in the U.S. as it's very easy to commit terrorist attacks in the U.S. -- it's so big with so many soft targets, and many weapons can be purchased easily here, both legally and illegally. It is clear that they have no base here because American Muslims by and large reject Al Qaeda's goals.

Opening up communications is the key, not invading privacy by "opening other people's communications" (smile).

The more people hear what Al Qaeda wants, the less people will support them.

The more people hear that the U.S. is not about anti-freedom, anti-privacy, anti-Muslim and imperialism, the better our story will be. Most people around the world held high regards to the US pre-Bush's debacles: 1) WMD wrong; 2) Cost of war wrong; 3) Length of war wrong; 4) Al Qaeda links wrong; 5) Nuclear programs wrong; 6) Failing to guarding weapons depots wrong; 7) Failing to secure the country from looting wrong; 8) Increased terrorist attacks worldwide; 9) Liberties reduced; 10) Assumption of guilt increased; 11) Higher deficits; 12) Higher oil prices aiding Iran, Libya and Russia; 13) Not greeted as liberators wrong; 14) Digging its own mass graves in Iraq; 15) Torturing prisoners in Iraq;.... The list is just too much, with just about everything wrong, wrong, wrong.

Ken HaglerJanuary 16, 2006 12:47 PM

Of course this search (and Congress' "act") are _completely illegal_ under this law:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

However, it doesn't matter, because the law has long since ceased to have any meaning in the US.

Glauber RibeiroJanuary 16, 2006 1:07 PM

Opening of international mail (inbound and outbound) has been happening for many years in the US. I can't remember a time when mail i receive from my family (or send to them) wasn't routinely opened. Packages, especially, are rarely, ever, received unopened. The most common type of opening is a cut closed with postal tape.

AGJanuary 16, 2006 1:22 PM

@David

"Who thinks there's any entity -- besides the U.S. -- is that can seriously be considered to be ready to 'take over the world.'"

The World has already been taken over. UN, China, US, OPEC, World Bank, International Courts, InterNic, Exxon, etc...

All of the entities work together to "control" the World.

We live in a Pluristic world. One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is; What groups do I belong to?

While you are right in that invading privacy is bad. Not invading that same privacy can be equally bad.

J.D. AbolinsJanuary 16, 2006 1:51 PM

In some respects, the opening of postal mail at US Customs reminds me of the Phil Zimmermann's (the fellow who developed PGP) experiences years ago at a US airport. He was being questioned by federal authorities and learned that the US rights don't really apply in the airports' international zone. Until one clears Customs, one is not really in the US. Probably works the same way in other countries.

AndrewJanuary 16, 2006 2:24 PM

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Well, just what does that mean, exactly? Clearly the "people" mentioned in this amendment should not mean all people everywhere. If it did, then any spying by the government, upon anyone at all, would be illegal. Then there is the matter of deciding if the correspondence of a "person" can really be considered part of the person's "papers"... especially after it has been tendered to the government for delivery. If we were talking about FedEx, well that's a bit different than the government's own postal service.

gregJanuary 16, 2006 2:25 PM

Its is common for most countries to open inbound mail, and most reserve the right to open outbound mail. Hell its recommened that "do not xray" (electronics/disks) packages be in these easy to open and repack packages, and that its a good idea to do that anyway so they open and close em. No body is pretending at all.

Here in NZ some of it is for tax reasons, but most it for biosecurity. They are more worried about moths getting than drugs.

Out of all the breaches of privacy, this is the one i'm least concerned about. I mean how much do you trust all (in both countries) the postmen that will handel the package/letter?

Keith MooreJanuary 16, 2006 2:41 PM

>Domestic First Class mail is still private; the police need a warrant is to open it.

Warrants are so "last century".

Phil KarnJanuary 16, 2006 3:31 PM

Is Customs required to give you any kind of notice that your mail has been opened? Or is it usually just obvious? I suppose with some work they could make it hard for you to detect tampering, but would they bother?

I wonder how Customs would react to someone exchanging DVDs full of random bits with someone in another country.

PaulJanuary 16, 2006 4:07 PM

Next thing they'll try to do is inspect your luggage as you try to enter or leave the country! Then comes opening parcels crossing the border! How dare they invade our privacy!

And to answer the question, no, there is no requirement to announce that a package has been opened for inspection. Ever wonder how some of those drug smugglers are caught and convicted? Often, postal inspectors will replace the drugs with a harmless substitute, then watch and see who takes posession of the package.

As for commenting on this in such inflamatory language: How stupid do you think people are? (Well, judging from some of the other comments, pretty stupid, I guess.)

RogerJanuary 16, 2006 6:45 PM

This is absurd. The right of US Customs officials to search imports and exports for contraband was granted in 1789 by that well known fascist George Washington and his neo-con crony Alexander Hamilton.

That right did not extend to reading your mail without warrant BUT NEITHER DOES THIS!!!! Bruce only quoted subsection (a)(1); subsection (c)(2) specifically prohibits the persons engaged in searching for contraband from reading any mail they find, or permitting anyone else to read it, unless under warrant or with written permission from the sender or addressee.

Just another case of a journalist reading the first paragraph and running off the deep end before he reads the rest.

@Phil Karn:
> I wonder how Customs would react to someone exchanging DVDs full of random bits with someone in another country.

They would not react at all:
1. For a start, they would not even search the letter unless it was a really enormous amount of DVDs, because subsection (d) prohibits searching sealed articles under 16 ounces in weight;
2. Under subsection (c)(1), they must have reasonable cause to suspect the package is involved in one of several crimes;
3. None of the crimes listed in subsection (c)(1) pertain to import or export of DVDs, unless they contain pornography ro classified information; and
4. Subsection (c)(2) probably prohibits them from viewing the contents of the DVDs without a warrant (but IANAL.)

TankJanuary 16, 2006 7:51 PM

"Tank, you must not be aware that 2002 was after 9/11 huh?"
Posted by: Jacob Appelbaum at January 16, 2006 11:39 AM

What did I just say fool ?
This story was reported in papers a week or two ago. At that time people were recounting personal experiences of the same thing happening for decades.

TrevorJanuary 17, 2006 1:17 AM

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The keyword here is unreasonable. No one was mailing bombs back in the time of the Constitution.

On the other hand, Z-Scanners can certainly see inside a package and detect a bomb. I see no reason for any "reasonable" need to open a package unless a bomb or other deadly agent is suspected.

The list of "contraband" goes way beyond anything that a healthy, freedom conscious government should be concerned about.

Ari HeikkinenJanuary 17, 2006 2:29 AM

Good thing I can order stuff from UK and germany and no need to deal with US at all. All that counterterrorism nonsense in the US is simply too much. Doesn't it ever occur to anyone that US is actually losing money for real with all this security nonsense they're conducting?

RogerJanuary 17, 2006 3:06 AM

@Ari:
Are you seriously suggesting that Finnish customs officers never inspect imported goods? I find it hard to believe.

I know that UK and Germany counts as trade within the EU and thus there generally are no tariffs to be paid, but even then there are exceptions (e.g. alcohol).

> Doesn't it ever occur to anyone that US is actually losing money for real with all this security nonsense they're conducting?

Umm, no. The main purpose of Customs officers inspecting goods is to charge tariffs and excise. They actually make money, not lose it. In fact on the ratio of expenses to revenue in most countries Customs is the most lucrative branch of government, better than the tax department. Now there is a certain economic theory which holds that on balance we would all be better off without any tariffs at all, but I would be surprised to hear that you are a Globalisation supporter!!

MSBJanuary 17, 2006 12:59 PM

@Guillermito

'Every time someone tried to send me some food survival kit from France, it ends up *without* the sausage, and with a nice piece of official paper (inside the cardboard parcel) informing me - more or less - that "a piece of meat from unknown origin has been destroyed".'

If you've ever entered the United States from a foreign country, whether you're visiting or returning, you'll know that Customs will ask you if you're bringing in any meat product or fruits. Any such items will not be allowed into the country.

So in your case, Customs is just enforcing the same rules they've been enforced on persons entering the country.

GiacomoJanuary 17, 2006 1:27 PM

"The keyword here is unreasonable. No one was mailing bombs back in the time of the Constitution."

Actually, no one is mailing bombs right now as well, at least not from foreign countries. The Anthrax case was entirely "domestic" (coming from military laboratories), as it was Unabomber. Long-distance deliveries are too unpredictable to be good carriers for very sensible materials like explosives and chemicals.

GuillermitoJanuary 17, 2006 3:53 PM

@MSB:

I know, but thanks for reminding it. Every country, mine included, has the right to check incoming packages, just like they do in an airport, for forbidden products. As someone above said, it can be out of fear of biological invaders, also to stop drug import, etc. I understand this is quite normal, and it is very different than DHS reading a personal mail.

I was not saying it's a political scandal to get rid of my sausages, I was just trying some comic relief here :)

pigletJanuary 17, 2006 4:04 PM

"I don't know about simple letters, but I can tell you about small parcels."

Me too. Here in Canada, sausages and ham are removed as well as bottles of wine (for which there is really no justification). It has always been the case (I think) that parcels are inspected by customs. It's their job to check imports and when you send a parcel abroad, you will have to complete a customs declaration which informs you that the parcel may be opened by customs.

However, we are here talking about opening *letters* without a warrant. So most of the discussion here is missing the point. Inspecting international letters is legal in Canada as well as in USA but I think it is not in Europe, and it shouldn't.

AnonymousJanuary 17, 2006 10:21 PM

@piglet:
> It has always been the case (I think) that parcels are inspected by customs. [....] However, we are here talking about opening *letters* without a warrant.

Incorrect, sorry. Please see the actual legislation (which Bruce linked to), rather than the sensationalised press version. Without a warrant they can only open parcels over 16 ounces in weight, and then only if they have reasonable suspicion of a crime. And without a warrant, they are forbidden from reading letters at all.

pigletJanuary 18, 2006 9:17 AM

If this only applies to parcels over 16 ounces (453.6 gramms), why do they say "all mail"? I admit I am confused now.

-- “All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,��? says the CBP Web site. That includes personal correspondence. “All mail means ‘all mail,’��? said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point. “This process isn’t something we’re trying to hide,��? Mohan said, noting the wording on the agency’s Web site. --

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10740935/

qwertyFebruary 6, 2006 12:09 PM

From personal experience - outgoing mail can also be "inspected" by a variety of agencies: USPS, Customs, Military, Foreign org, dishonest carriers/employee

While in Iraq for OIF, several care packages I recieved from home were officially "inspected". Some included a form or sticker stating the inspection took place, some were just obviously resealed, some were missing items (with or without an official explaination), and some packages never arrived.

I also had mail I sent home get inspected as well.

WonderingFebruary 8, 2006 10:51 AM

Regarding U.S. Customs opening across the border mail... My FedEx package (a one page letter in an envelope inside a flat FedEx envelope) from Canada was stripped open. This was a business letter. Above someone posted that first class mail still needed a warrant. Wouldn't an overnight currior as FedEx apply. I was shocked, dismayed and wondered if whomever opened and read MY private mail, made a copy of it? Thanks to anyone with further information.

StuartFebruary 16, 2006 2:58 PM

I send international parcel mail regularly to the U.S. and Europe from New Zealand and have always worked under the assumption that the contents of any of these parcels will be freely inspected by border control at either end whether it be via x-ray or simple physical inspection. From memory the NZ 'customs declaration' form attached to these parcels actually implies this is the case.

It surprises me that the law has been ammended to allow this in the U.S. although I assume 'mail' in this case possibly refers to envelopes rather than parcels?

If so I'd be equally surprised in this day and age if businesses or individuals send confidential information via physical mail when many more secure options (and faster) are available us.

KurtMarch 29, 2006 4:04 PM

I have an International mail now is being processed by the US Customs. I couldn't believe what happened here, the mail is urgent for me and it has been in the Custom for a week. What the fuck.....

LillyMay 11, 2006 8:56 PM

My daughter sent her absentee ballot to via FedEx in 2004. I wanted to make sure her vote arrived and was counted. Customs opened the FedEx envelope and sliced open the ballot!!! There was nothing in the FedEx envelope but the very obvious absentee ballot. I took pictures of the FedEx envelope which I delivered unopened to the election office. The clerk there opened the FedEx envelope and discovered the sliced open ballot. I received a letter from Customs via my Senator which said:
"Let me assure you the CBP did not have a political agenda when the FedEx package and its contents, the absentee ballot, were examined. The examination was solely to ascertain the admissibility of the shipment." I don't believe that for one minute. It was well known that the ex-pat community heavily favored Kerry.

ErinMay 16, 2006 8:29 PM

How long does it usually take for an envelope to get through customs? It is coming in from france and it has been a week with nothing delivered!! How long does the process usually take???It only weighs .4 kg!!!

FreddieJune 21, 2006 12:07 PM

I recieved a couple pieces of mail from my job and both pieces of mail were open when I recieved them from my human resource manager. When I ask my human resource manager why was my mail open, He told me that since it came to there address he open it. To me I think that is illegal an a violation of my privacy. But the question I was wondering was is that illegal and what can I do about this.

MikeJuly 12, 2006 1:14 PM

Just received a package of games from Canada and there is an obvious slit at the top of the package- US or Canadian Customs I'm sure. It is too bad that the US talks a great deal about Freedom and Liberty; however, to quote the great Benjamin Franklin: "When you give up liberty to gain temporary safety, you deserve neither liberty nor safety." Thanks Patriot Act!

Knowlege 4 YouAugust 20, 2006 11:46 PM

There is a reason courier delivery services like Fedex have their mail opened so much compared to regular US postal mail....ONLY USPS mail is required to have a search warrant to open their packages, while services like UPS, Fedex, DHL, etc. don't need a warrant to open mail since they are courier delivery services exempt from this US federal provision regarding mail less then 16 oz.

The best way to ensure Customs doesn't open your package is to CLEARLY state what is in the package. If you have business documents from your employer being mailed--state exactly that! Don't be vague and just state "paperwork". Customs officials HATE vague terminology on the US Customs declaretion forms.

Bruce SchneierAugust 21, 2006 6:44 AM

"The best way to ensure Customs doesn't open your package is to CLEARLY state what is in the package."

This is probably true, but I have to wonder: does Customs simply not believe that people lie?

Customs InspectorSeptember 26, 2006 3:50 PM

I did not have the time to read all the comments written here, but let me make something very clear.
If it comes across the border, we can look at it without warrant. This includes everything without exception. We look at letter class international mail. What do we find in such mail? A few grams of heroin, currency, checks and monetary instruments, passports etc.
We can look at mail coming in, so we can look at anything coming in including your person, on your person and concealed within your person. And we do just that.
All the authority I have to search persons and things coming into the U.S., I have the same authority for person and things leaving the country.
That is it in a nutshell. Most of this search authority we had before 9/11, however, that authority has been broadened scince 9/11.

scooterOctober 13, 2006 8:08 PM

The biggest problem is not the opening of packages, as this is a countries right to protect itself and its citizens....
UPS has stated that if US Customs does open your package the likelyhood of it being damaged after being opened significantly increases as they dont repack them the way you or I would.....

My complaint is the lack of care in this regard.
Open the package, but also repack it as you found it....

sherylNovember 7, 2006 5:58 PM

i was wondering how long the us customs agents or the post office has to get the packages delivered??
i sent souveniers home from paris and at the same time i sent home helmets.. the helmet package was recieved.. but so far i have not recieved the other package..

Daniel C. BoyerNovember 12, 2006 3:13 PM

To the Customs Inspector:
What would be your justification for inspecting letters or packages leaving the United States? Why wouldn't that be the business of the country into which they're imported?

But, more broadly, circumstantial evidence in a number of instances and over a period of time too extensive to be ignored convinces me that either the Customs Service, or some other foederal agency, exercises this power for political purposes against people on enemies lists, or expressions of political opinion against the ruling power, or, to be blunt, the current dictatorship in the United States. The activities which would probably be of the Customs Service (though perhaps they are exercised, directly or otherwise, by that secret-police agency, the FBI) have been very difficult to understand if they are other than supporting that dictatorship and conducting a witch-hunt of and oppressing its enemies real or perceived.

customsbrokerNovember 13, 2006 11:06 AM

I am a Customs Broker in the US. We handle the documentation to clear items through US Customs, Fish & Wildlife (FWS), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and many other government agencies for people/companies when it is imported. When items are entered into the US, they can also be inspected by other agencies other than Customs - FDA, USDA, APHIS, DOT, FWS, etc. Customs and the other agencies work together for our protection. This is not to impede on your privacy, but to ensure the contents are within US regulations and do not contain diseases, insects, etc. that can harm our people or commerce. For example, fruits, vegetables, wood packing, etc. are checked for insects that are in other countries damaging crops and forests to keep them from entering our crops & forests (protecting US agriculture, forestry), poultry/bird items are inspected to protect people and businesses against avian flu (think of the mass slaughter of poultry in Asia and the effect that would have on our farmers). Many others - mad cow disease, swine flu, etc. (sausage!). They also inspect items to protect copyrights & trademarks - think fake Rolex, Coach, etc. - to protect legitimate businesses. Alcohol is under the jurisdiction of each state in the US and as far as I know, all allow you to import a certain amount for personal use if you file the right paperwork or carry it in on your person.

If you are concerned about them copying your private business papers, votes, etc., think of the number of packages/letters that arrive DAILY into the US. Do you really think they are concerned with one vote or one business letter? They are only concerned with the legality of it. That inspector may be a Democrat too...

For items leaving the US, they are protecting against such things as cars stolen in the US and being exported, technology that you cannot legally export, etc. (US Bureau of Industry & Security).

There are websites for all the agencies that clearly state what they do and why they do it. If you plan to import/export something, know before you ship/mail and provide the proper documentation and list of items included. That will speed up the process. If you don't have the time or ability to handle it yourself, then pay someone to do it for you who does.

These are our US laws passed by our government - the one we voted into office. Perfection is not found in any country. If you are a US citizen unhappy with laws & regulations, write to the people you elected (you did vote, right? - non-voters should not complain). If you are not a US citizen and do not like our laws, then you have the right to do as someone else said they do and take your business where you are satisfied (if you can be).

master p dickJanuary 4, 2007 12:49 PM

Fuck the usa and usa customs.You fucking yanks.Custom officers are fucking pussys.

kdJanuary 18, 2007 11:51 AM

i sent a package to canada from the US over 8 days ago by global priority mail service (they guarantee 4-6 day service). Is it possible that US customs has opened my package? it was a cell phone i accidently took and forgot to give back to a relative...

bobFebruary 7, 2007 10:48 PM

The customs officers on here are contending that all mail gets opened. That's insane. You inspect all the mail, but many items coming into ports, i.e. large shipping containers, are not fully inspected?

Some one is full of it. It's impossible and impractical to inspect all the mail, packages, containers entering or exiting the country.

cbpoFebruary 7, 2007 11:55 PM

Under current law, the Customs Service is empowered to search without a warrant inbound mail handled by the United States Postal Service (USPS), and packages and letters handled by private carriers such as Federal Express and the United Parcel Service. This power derives from the traditional authority of the sovereign to protect its borders against inbound contraband, and to collect duties on inbound freight. See Ramsey v. U.S., 431 U.S. 606 (1977). All vessels, vehicles, persons and merchandise, including mail, inbound or outbound is subject to search. Simply put, Customs authority is very broad in that everything crossing the border is subject to search, but very narrow in that there must be a "reasonable certainty" that the item does in fact have nexus with the border. Generally, Customs searches are for merchandise. The definition of merchandise was intentionally made very broad when the Customs laws and regulations were written, in 1789. CBP Officers are typically searching for money, drugs, weapons and other prohibited items. Outbound searches are for the same things: money, US produced weapons (US military equipment, assault rifles going to El Salvador or Darfur, missile guidance systems, etc), and technology. The US has a tremendous technological advantage over the rest of the world and it is in all Americans' best interests to ensure it stays that way.

For more on Customs authority regarding outbound mail searches, read the entirety of 19 USC 1583. In order to actually open any mail, certain conditions must be met. In the case of letter class mail under 16 ounces, these are very detailed and strict. A USPS employee is also required to be present to witness the inspection and ensure it is properly repacked (and the USPS did, in fact, oppose the proposed change to Customs outbound mail search authority). The reason letter class mail is excepted from warrantless search is that letter class mail is just that, letters and not merchandise. If you actually take five minutes to read the law most people will see that it is not an intrusion into anyone's Fourth Amendment rights.

AnonymousFebruary 22, 2007 9:54 AM

this is a message to those of you who say that america isn't free and that we have no rights. Those laws and acts that your complaining about ARE our rights... they protect us. The government takes precautions to protect us against things like terrorism and your saying they treat us like were in a prison? Have you heard of the word COMMUNISM? That's what I thought...

If you have nothing to hide, then why be upset?

MattFebruary 22, 2007 5:33 PM

Sounds like a good debate is going on here.

I agree the government should have some leverage to monitor activity but never should it have absolute say in all matters.

Thats scary. At least to me. Especially since I bet most rich people with power wish they didn't have to put up with the poor people's aggression.

Since the Rich use poverty to leverage slavery or should I say low wage slavery
it will benefit the rich and powerful to disarm and take things away from the poor to weaken any potential uprising.

At some point the rich will cross the line and the poor "who out number the rich"
will rebel as they have for centuries.

Anyone who agrees the government is looking out for them is seriously skewed in their thinking. Even something as trivial as opening mail just because they want to is just another hand in your pocket and set of eyes on your daily life.

The so called terrorists are just rebel's.
And until the rich give back power we will always deal with rebellion.

So choose wisely about who you support and who's "rules" you think are fair.

I say we finally "evolve" into a classless society but man that won't fly with the super rich.

I guess its a catch 22. To be rich we need the poor and vice versa.

Maybe we should stop killing the poor?
Or maybe we should kill the rich??

Hey whatever right!! Its not affecting us so lets go back to watching American Idol YAY!! easy stuff!

AnonymousFebruary 22, 2007 5:45 PM

"this is a message to those of you who say that america isn't free and that we have no rights. Those laws and acts that your complaining about ARE our rights... they protect us. The government takes precautions to protect us against things like terrorism and your saying they treat us like were in a prison? Have you heard of the word COMMUNISM? That's what I thought...

If you have nothing to hide, then why be upset?"

Just to let you know that the premise
of communism was to use the community as a business entity to generate revenue and support for military conquest. Now take a second to reflect on my comment and think about America's situation.

And last time I checked the government's role in my life isn't for my protection it's for my use. And right now the Government hasn't helped me and a great deal of the people I know. And how can the government be concerned with Joe Smo nobody "unless its election season" when lobbying is at its all time high for big business interests.

You can pretty much believe the opposite of what every politician says.
Thats almost factual knowledge and a great deal of trail blazers from Clinton to both Bush presidents are proof of that.

When I was in the Navy all of our resources went to guarding Oil fields or Oil rigs. Your tax payer money guarding foreign interests. Hmmm... Doesn't sound like they are protecting much of my interests.

apiFebruary 23, 2007 8:37 AM

I'm just wondering, what do customs do exactly to mail? What kind of machines/devices do they use and does the wait time varies from city? I usually order books from japan and it takes a day or so for it to clear in DC i believe but it going on day three in my books are in chicago.

francesMarch 17, 2007 4:42 AM

I sent an XPRESSPOST (enclosed are three passports) to the US from Canada on Feb 24, 2007 and arrived at the US on Feb 28, and it is not received till now. I am not sure whether it has been held by the American Customs. Can anybody tell me how to get the information whether your mail has been held by the Customs? Thanks!

fifiApril 9, 2007 9:18 PM

Having just within the last few hours, received tampered airmail sent to me, a legal permanent resident of 15 years, resident in Washington D.C, from my mother, still resident in my homeland Scotland, I feel compelled to comment.
Defying all grounds of physics, the envelope arrived torn on three sides, rendering the envelope to act as a semi-functioning folder, I say semi-functioning for the "spine" was only held together by two sinews of paper.
I am at a loss as to how the 5 page personal letter remained inside.
Feeling somewhat violated I placed a call to the U.S post Office, after much broo-ha ha, I managed to speak live to a representative, who rather flippantly informed me that U.S customs opens all International incoming mail, not entirely shocked at this, for I have noticed since 9/11, that my mothers letters have frequently arrived on my doorstep with what is best described as "nibbles" and bite marks taken out of the envelope, perhaps even resealed...but in no way has the intrusion been this obvious in the past.
I asked the representative what would be the criteria for the U.S customs to select my mothers rather innocuous looking letter from Scotland, a historically fierce bunch, but last time I looked, a bunch on friendly terms with the U.S, and if I am not mistaken, dieing along side American service men in the middle east, from bundles and bundles of International mail...she hung up on me!!
I redialed, to finally get in touch with someone a tad more professional.
She took my details and told me that someone with "authority to answer my questions" would call me back.
It has come to my attention, reading above comments, that yes the customs can exercise their right to open personal incoming mail, but that after doing so they must render that piece of mail "sendable", the postal service on receipt of said letter accepts it as "sendable"...if it is not, they are then responsible for any repairs, including their initials or signature above the address noting tampering and perhaps missing contents!!
My letter it would seem, did not meet their "sendable" requirements or criteria...
I find this to be totally unacceptable, again, I feel violated, with god alone knows who, now privvy to family affairs.
Shocking!!!!

Daniel C. BoyerApril 15, 2007 11:40 AM

Re: "this is a message to those of you who say that america isn't free and that we have no rights. Those laws and acts that your complaining about ARE our rights... they protect us."

You do realise, don't you, that, first, there are two separate issues, 1)the "laws and acts" and 2)what the government (often illegally), does, the latter of with which I've had a lot of experience -- Customs, the USPS, the FBI or somebody has frequently slit open my letters clearly addressed from me and to some foreign address and actually returned them to me without explanation! Second, those laws and acts are not our rights -- the rights are enshrined in the Constitution and limit the subject of that legislation. Furthermore, the excuse that "they protect us" may be arguable, but realise that it's the same excuse that Nazi Germany used for its enactments (protecting people against Bolshevism, protecting children against the existence of Jews &c.) as did Stalinist Russia (defending the revolution, &c.).

"The government takes precautions to protect us against things like terrorism and your saying they treat us like were in a prison? Have you heard of the word COMMUNISM? That's what I thought..."

Yes, I've heard the word "COMMUNISM," which you're apparently using as a synonym for, e.g. Stalinism in the former Soviet Union. It's extremely difficult, these days to tell the U.S. apart from the USSR of that era, and I've written about this elsewhere in some detail. But you don't need to read me; this is all exhaustively detailed and unrefuted in newspapers of wide circulation.

Walter MaguinaApril 26, 2007 3:49 AM

I order some Mp3's from China to be shipped to Peru, Items left on January 18th, 2007 it is 26 April, 2007 I wonder what type of inspection my goods are going through I cant get any information on the goods and all I am told is to contact the shipper, I did for over 60 times and the response was that US Customs still is checking the goods. I am not sure why buit this goods have nothing to do with USA, they are going to a foreign country like Peru, why will they have to be held this long and I don't even get a notice letting me know the reason it has been held up for so many months how is a bussness to survive with prices of goods going down day by day?

again another example of burocratic red tape.

Walter R. Maguina

CalvinApril 30, 2007 8:49 PM

I have a parcel that has been in Custome since the 9th of April and tommorow is the 1st. i am very concerned that i will not receive it. I tried contacting customs and all i got was a voicemail in which I left numerous messages and no retuen calls...my tracknig number is ea838125801cn i need smoe feedback becaue this has happend once before but never took this long...all thats in it are some shoes and clothes comming from China. send me a email to garcapone2002@yahoo.com

DavidMay 31, 2007 12:09 PM

I sent a dividend check from a private investment via FedEx to my stock broker in the U.S from the U.K. where I spend time in the summer. I put "documents" on the description thinking that the description box was for insurance issues, and I guess I consider a check a document. The check is now being held by customs and when I called to ask them about it, I got lectured, almost accussed. Did I break any laws? I didn't think it was a big deal to send a paper check to my stock broker. Checks have paper trails, and so do deposits into banks.

smallwonderJuly 21, 2007 8:49 PM

Hi frances,

did you get any information about your passport?
I have similar case, where the passport has been held by the US Customs.
I do not know how to proceed? Will i get the passport?? Please reply back asap. I hope you understand my condition.

AmitOctober 20, 2007 7:00 PM

smallwonder,
Have you received your passport.
I am in same boat, my PR cards are lost.
Can you tell me how to proceed.
Thanks, Amit

gmNovember 12, 2007 12:48 PM

What risk is there to apply for the expedited NEXUS border crossing program?

I'm a Canadian citizen, and frequently drive across the Canada/USA border to shop in the USA. The wait times have grown to up to three hours at times. NEXUS pre-approved/"screened" "low risk" card holders can cross the border with minimal delay by using an exclusive queue reserved for them which often has little to no wait time.

To apply for NEXUS membership, you have to provide a passport, and birth certificate.

My fear is that the NEXUS membership may open me up to extra judicial or national security scrutiny. My understanding is that NEXUS allows Canada and the USA to formally share information about me.

I have no criminal record and am generally a law abiding citizen. I declare the value of goods purchased in the USA within about 90-100% accuracy. I don't own a firearm. I don't drink, and rarely purchase alcoholic beverages for gifts. I don't traffic in any ilicit goods or services.

Should I apply for NEXUS? The annual fee is US $50, and the cumulative savings in time crossing the border would be substantial. However, is my personal privacy or other in-alienable rights in greater jeopardy by becoming a NEXUS member?

DebbieDecember 4, 2007 7:47 PM

Hi, my friend sent me Christmas's presents. It got to NY since 11/30/2007, but the status still said "Impound International Arrival". Can you tell me how long I have to wait to get my friend's present?

adamJanuary 27, 2008 6:33 PM

MY PACKAGE WAS SENT FROM CHINA TO CANADA , THE US CUSTOMS ARE HOLDING IT , THE CONTENTS ARE ILLEGAL IN USA BUT LEGAL IN CANADA , CAN THEY REFUSE TO SEND IT TO CANADA??? PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU KNOW

cessarJanuary 28, 2008 3:58 PM

It just happen with me, i just got a intenational package. it was all ripped off, realy sad. My sister sent me a ring that it is not there..stolen!!, they dont send yo any why? or excuse... only a big label on top with bar code say "international inbound parce" / SIGANATURE CAPTURE.
WHAT!!!
We are being violated in this "free land"..
For how long more

salsaApril 21, 2008 4:08 AM

okay, so the us supposedly inspects ALL parcels, fine.
am I understanding correctly that they also open parcels just going through their country on its way to somewhere else?
and how do they check food items??


I purchased a large bottle of sauce from central america to be sent to japan.
it was apparently opened somewhere, resealed with an orange tape that says 'Custom Inspected'.
(anyone know if us seals are orange?)
no letter, no explanation, no indication of where they checked it.
and 1/4 of the content of the bottle is gone!

I can bear the idea of them checking contents (though I really think they should at least stick a note that they've done it), but pouring out 1/4 (that's like 200ml!) is way too much for 'inspection', especially since I don't imagine they've done any real chemical testing or anything
(it arrived too early for that).

with all the food tampering/poisoning incidences that we've been having lately, I don't feel very comfortable consuming a product that's arrived in this state.

RicoMay 19, 2008 11:46 AM

U.S. Customs has had my package for 5 days. What can I or what do I need to do? Is there anyway I can contact them to find out what the problem is or will they contact me. Can someone email me with an answer to my problem at krazyiek@hotmail.com. Thanks I hope someone can answer my concerns

kgwJune 6, 2008 4:29 PM

I ordered an auto part from B.C., Canada, and it got all the way to Southern California just to get stuck in U.S. Customs limbo. It's a car part! I had to call UPS to ask where it was; they then told me US Customs needed to see the invoice. I sent the invoice: where is my car part? Something is seriously wrong, and the dodos in Washington (and the people who elected them) don't know what it is. All this "protection" government employees speak of wouldn't be needed if the US wasn't raping and pillaging all over the world, making the world "safe" for corporate minions.

DRJuly 2, 2008 11:52 AM

The trade act only restates the U.S. Code Section 1581(a), Title 19, U.S.C.:

"Any officer of the customs may at any time go on board of any vessel or vehicle at any place in the United States or within the customs waters or, as he may be authorized, within a customs-enforcement area established under the Anti-Smuggling Act, or at any other authorized place without as well as within his district, and examine the manifest and other documents and papers and examine, inspect, and search the vessel or vehicle and every part thereof and any person, trunk, package, or cargo on board, and to this end may hail and stop such vessel or vehicle, and use all necessary force to compel compliance."

Plain as the nose on anyone's face is the fact that these folks are given the power to protect the commerce of the U.S. This is directly related to our country's sovereignty. Perhaps if we could correct the people who abuse the borders and our country's commerce, we could expect less inspection at our borders (or functional eqivalent thereof).

I have been and have had packages checked by these fine people and I appreciate their job. U.S. Customs is the only agency specifically created by the consitution!

+apAugust 1, 2008 6:33 AM

You have to be plain stupid to think it's a "good thing" to have zero privacy. This is not a free country whatsoever, and considering the fact that 9/11 was a MOSSAD/CIA inside job and the war plans for Iraq were on the books long before by the Zionist neo-cons in office I don't think we should be embracing any of these measures which strip away our rights.

EddieAugust 26, 2008 6:19 PM

I had my expired Taiwan passport mailed from Taiwan to the US. It arrived on the 19th, and today is the 26th and its still in customs. I was born in the US, therefore I am a us citizen. The taiwan passport is just for visa purposes when i go to Taiwan. The customer service for customs obviously doesnt help. USPS doesnt help either. Somebody Help...

JessieOctober 30, 2008 1:03 AM

Please let me know your email address. I got the same case as you. They said will mail it to me within 2 days.

AnonymousDecember 4, 2008 8:16 AM

I purchased brand name mobile phones from China in October this year to be shipped to Trinidad West Indies. The phones were siezed by the US customs and were not returned to the vendor or sent to me. They claimed it was a violation of the trade mark rights as the vendor did not have the correct rights. If this is correct I lost a lot of money but I understand. I went ahead and purchase another order of China phones K630i. Remember these are China mobile phones but Sonyericsson also have a model carrying the same name although the phones are different. These phones were sent back to the vendor at my loss as I have to pay all the shipping fees hoping to get some other type of phones from the vendor. The vendor claims he has been shipping these type of phones without any problems. I cannot understand why the second shipment was taken as they are in no way counterfeit or copies of any brand name phones. Although it may have the same model number, it does not carry not the same brand name. Was this legal for this shipment to be stopped? I have no problem with the goods being inspectd by the US customs for dangerous goods but I believe the seizure of the goods should be done by the destination country.

anonDecember 12, 2008 3:28 AM

you cant sell chinese knock-off phones in the US. Sony spent millions of $$ branding their phone/advertising/standing by their product.

What possible reason could naming the phones 630i have other than trying to defraud an unsuspecting US consumer into thinking it was a sony phone?

Please realize US consumers are accustomed to strong IP protection so do not check a product to see if it is fake, and can very easily buy this product unknowingly and feel cheated.

MomDecember 17, 2008 10:37 PM

I sent a package to my daughter in S. Korea. The box had some thoughts and "miss you's" from the whole family. It arrived in a totally different box. The gifts were unwrapped and rearranged and it looks as if one of the gifts is missing. It has totally spoiled what I wanted to be a nice Christmas away from home. AND there was NO note saying they had opened it. I'm not a happy camper.

MariaDecember 17, 2008 10:49 PM

I am just having the same case with some chinese mobile phones, they say they are counterfeits but they have an unkown brand (branded by the importer) and the numbers are also different, however they might have bluetooth trademark and probably that is why they have hold them for more than one month already without providing us withany notice. Do you think Ican still do something or they will destroy the cargo?

NIShaDecember 19, 2008 7:45 AM

my very important documents are mailed from India to WES for credit evaluation, they reached US on 11th DEC but i dont know how and why its in inbound customs, and how long will it take to reach the destination.these people dont even think that some documents are very important and your whole career is dependent upon it.

Miss PissyJanuary 3, 2009 9:01 PM

My package arrived in customs dec. 11. It is a small piece of jewelry, it hasn't left customs yet. The address I had it sent to will no longer be valid in two weeks. Any suggestions or experiences you can share? Smurphin78@yahoo.com

baneMarch 6, 2009 12:13 AM

Wow! I had documents sent from Canada with a declaration of "documents" for custom (unless there is another word for documents) arrived in New York 3 weeks ago, called USPS only to be told it was selected for random inspection..... apart from being annoying this is frustrating! Having read the commentary above I just wonder, if someone wanted to smuggle documents into the US with the knowledge of no privacy, I am pretty sure they will carry it in on their person! Or consider todays announcement about an Army captain who sent cash (our money) from Iraq into several accounts back home ....How come his shipments of currency never qualified for random inspection! Its either the system is crap or heavily corrupted ..either way it is a sad loss of privacy! Imagine what a dictator in another country would say ! See even America, the self declared guardian of human rights does the same! So why should their citizens have any rights! I thought we were the land of the free and the brave!!!

starburstApril 1, 2009 1:07 PM

Any advice/tips/information would be helpful. My passport is with the US customs in Wilmington, Ohio. I need to travel soon but I can't until I get the passport. How long can they hold up the passport? Is there something I can do to speed up the process for them to release the passport? Is there a number I can call? I really appreciate the help!

babyjaneJune 2, 2009 9:19 PM

@starburst: I am in the same situation, passport in Wilmington. What DHL tells me, US customs can hold the package for 30days!!! Just pray like hell they get their backside in gear and release it soon.

And US customs have no obligations to compensate you. I am in a horrid situation where I am being backed into a corner and can't do anything to hurry US customs up - coz DHL won't do much.

DHL being a German company, why the HELL does europe bound mail go through America?? Stupid, illogical move.

proudtobeanamericanJuly 21, 2009 7:16 PM

We live in dangerous times, my friends. As part of insuring the safety of civilians in America, Customs and NSA and TSA's job is to make sure that the products and things coming in aren't hazardous. Wouldn't you hate to end up being sent something and it have something other in it than what you ordered? Like if you, say, ordered some new dietary or food supplement from another country and they put a pesticide in it and you didn't know it and then you took it and it killed you later. There is no way to be sure you are getting a 'safe' item unless it is inspected first by some government agency or firm. Even if from a credible company, coming overseas, it could have been 'tainted' or 'tampered' with by someone intending to harm people in this country. Also, it could pick up contamination, diseases, ruin on its way up here. You just can't be sure unless it's checked first by professionals. And I'd be glad to know that there is someone out there who cares about my health and safety, b/c I'd rather be alive and live with the laws that ensure my safety than be dead. And not a day goes by when I don't ask "Is this product really safe for me? Who checked it after it was made? What all is in it?" And another reason Customs seizes stuff...if you order something like Valium that may not 'require' a Rx in another country, well, duh! Certain items are banned or restricted/controlled in this country b/c of their potential for abuse and the U.S. does have its drug problems too, though not as bad as Mexico. Just so you, know, it is ILLEGAL to order those kind of items from other countries with or without a presciption. Doing so will get you heavy fines and a long prison sentence. You can only get them in the U.S. with a written prescription from a licensed doctor with a 'valid' medical reason for its use.

Clive RobinsonJuly 21, 2009 11:35 PM

@ proudtobeanamerican,

"Just so you, know, it is ILLEGAL to order those kind of items from other countries with or without a presciption."

Ah actually no it's not illegal to order them or pay for them as neither is actually committing a crime in the juresdiction the transaction took place in.

It may be illegal to import them and then again not, it depends on how you go about it and why.

"Doing so will get you heavy fines and a long prison sentence."

Again that depends on many things to do with the way you go about obtaining the medications the reason for obtaining them, the quantity and the type.

There are actually many Americans getting their personal prescription drugs from south of the border quite legaly and saving quite considerable sums of money in the process.

US border customs are quite used to seeing people cross over and come back with a years supply of medication usually the drugs are the types that would not be abused for recreational use such as those used to treat high blood pressure diabetics and other long term conditions where the drug is not out of patent (or even unavailable in the US currently).

As long as you go about it the right way you will not have problems.

It is by the way a two way process and similar happens across the Canadian border.

If you think about it there needs to be a "right way" so that non US Citizens or US Citizens living abroad can travel to the US on business, holiday or extended visits.

I myself have travled to the US with a months supply of pain killers and sleeping tablets and other medications in the past due to a chronic condition. (I get the meds free in the UK because of one of the conditions I have and some are very expensive in the US, and due to the events following 9/11 it seemed prudent to carry a sufficient supply).

I made enquires with the US embasy before travaling and they told me what was required for me to do I did it and had no problems.

Alan PondOctober 4, 2009 2:48 PM

My UK pension ATM card was posted by my pal in UK on 11th August 2009 to me in New Orleans. It is now October and I haven't received it yet.. and there is *nothing* I can do?

WendyOctober 31, 2009 3:07 PM

I have my passport with an immigartion Visa being send by courier through the US to Europe and it has been held by US customs for 2 weeks now. I read that it happens more. Anybody who has the same experience, please let me know when you received it finally. I am becoming desperate. Thanks!!!!

R R maronDecember 24, 2009 11:01 AM

On the Customs and Border Patrol site, there is a document
http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/travel/... and on page 4 it states:

"(2) Sealed Letter Class Mail. Officers may not read or permit others to read
correspondence contained in sealed letter class mail (the international equivalent
of First Class) without an appropriate search warrant or consent. Only articles in
the postal system are deemed "mail." Letters carried by individuals or private
carriers such as DHL, UPS, or Federal Express, for example, are not considered to
be mail, even if they are stamped, and thus are subject to a border search as
provided in this policy."

Doesn't that mean that they (CBP) themselves are saying that they cannot open ordinary letter class mail unless they have a warrant?

R R maronDecember 24, 2009 11:51 AM

full text of HR 3009 - that seems to show that there is still some protection for mail "sealed against inspection"

H.R.3009
Trade Act of 2002 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

`SEC. 583. EXAMINATION OF OUTBOUND MAIL.

`(a) EXAMINATION-

`(1) IN GENERAL- For purposes of ensuring compliance with the Customs laws of the United States and other laws enforced by the Customs Service, including the provisions of law described in paragraph (2), a Customs officer may, subject to the provisions of this section, stop and search at the border, without a search warrant, mail of domestic origin transmitted for export by the United States Postal Service and foreign mail transiting the United States that is being imported or exported by the United States Postal Service.

`(2) PROVISIONS OF LAW DESCRIBED- The provisions of law described in this paragraph are the following:

`(A) Section 5316 of title 31, United States Code (relating to reports on exporting and importing monetary instruments).

`(B) Sections 1461, 1463, 1465, and 1466, and chapter 110 of title 18, United States Code (relating to obscenity and child pornography).

`(C) Section 1003 of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (relating to exportation of controlled substances) (21 U.S.C. 953).

`(D) The Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2401 et seq.).

`(E) Section 38 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2778).

`(F) The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.).

`(b) SEARCH OF MAIL NOT SEALED AGAINST INSPECTION AND OTHER MAIL- Mail not sealed against inspection under the postal laws and regulations of the United States, mail which bears a Customs declaration, and mail with respect to which the sender or addressee has consented in writing to search, may be searched by a Customs officer.

`(c) SEARCH OF MAIL SEALED AGAINST INSPECTION WEIGHING IN EXCESS OF 16 OUNCES-

`(1) IN GENERAL- Mail weighing in excess of 16 ounces sealed against inspection under the postal laws and regulations of the United States may be searched by a Customs officer, subject to paragraph (2), if there is reasonable cause to suspect that such mail contains one or more of the following:

`(A) Monetary instruments, as defined in section 1956 of title 18, United States Code.

`(B) A weapon of mass destruction, as defined in section 2332a(b) of title 18, United States Code.

`(C) A drug or other substance listed in schedule I, II, III, or IV in section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812).

`(D) National defense and related information transmitted in violation of any of sections 793 through 798 of title 18, United States Code.

`(E) Merchandise mailed in violation of section 1715 or 1716 of title 18, United States Code.

`(F) Merchandise mailed in violation of any provision of chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or chapter 110 (relating to sexual exploitation and other abuse of children) of title 18, United States Code.

`(G) Merchandise mailed in violation of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2401 et seq.).

`(H) Merchandise mailed in violation of section 38 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2778).

`(I) Merchandise mailed in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.).

`(J) Merchandise mailed in violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act (50 U.S.C. App. 1 et seq.).

`(K) Merchandise subject to any other law enforced by the Customs Service.

`(2) LIMITATION- No person acting under the authority of paragraph (1) shall read, or authorize any other person to read, any correspondence contained in mail sealed against inspection unless prior to so reading--

`(A) a search warrant has been issued pursuant to rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; or

`(B) the sender or addressee has given written authorization for such reading.

`(d) SEARCH OF MAIL SEALED AGAINST INSPECTION WEIGHING 16 OUNCES OR LESS- Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, subsection (a)(1) shall not apply to mail weighing 16 ounces or less sealed against inspection under the postal laws and regulations of the United States.'.

(b) CERTIFICATION BY SECRETARY- Not later than 3 months after the date of enactment of this section, the Secretary of State shall determine whether the application of section 583 of the Tariff Act of 1930 to foreign mail transiting the United States that is imported or exported by the United States Postal Service is being handled in a manner consistent with international law and any international obligation of the United States. Section 583 of such Act shall not apply to such foreign mail unless the Secretary certifies to Congress that the application of such section 583 is consistent with international law and any international obligation of the United States.

(c) EFFECTIVE DATE-

(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (2), this section and the amendments made by this section shall take effect on the date of enactment of this Act.

(2) CERTIFICATION WITH RESPECT TO FOREIGN MAIL- The provisions of section 583 of the Tariff Act of 1930 relating to foreign mail transiting the United States that is imported or exported by the United States Postal Service shall not take effect until the Secretary of State certifies to Congress, pursuant to subsection (b), that the application of such section 583 is consistent with international law and any international obligation of the United States.

lonesomeFebruary 9, 2010 6:57 PM

Fucking USA Government they though they are god! Everything happen in this world is their business. they fucking cannot even taking care their own fucking problem. They want war everywhere so they can selling their A bomb and missles and war heads to profit their ass.

RobertOctober 15, 2010 10:28 AM

Today I received a FedEx envelope from a friend in the US. I live in the Netherlands. All the envelope had inside was a wedding invitation for later this month. I was surprised that the FedEx envelope and the wedding invitation inside had both been opened by U.S. Customs / Homeland Security before they left the US. There was green and brown tape on the outside of the FedEx envelope indicating this. Wow! Is this becoming normal? I would appreciate feedback or suggestions for further reading on this issue.

theaOctober 26, 2010 1:15 AM

I can understand that they have to check packages/envelopes but what happened to the contents of mine is unacceptable. I received a Fedex envelope from my sister who is in Canada. The documents inside were slashed. They used, I guess, a box cutter to open the envelope; making an opening at the side and in the process slashed the sides of 3 sheets. They sealed the opening with their security tape. I made a complaint with the local (Philippines) Fedex office and all they can do is file a report with their US counterpart. Has this happened to anybody?

K.November 4, 2010 2:53 PM

I ordered four dried yogurt cultures from the UK. They arrived in a small padded envelope with the contents clearly and accurately marked. US Customs, by tearing through the mailing envelope, was kind enough to totally destroy one of the cultures (the cotton on which it had been dried was GONE) and exposed one of the others by tearing into its bag (it might be ruined). The other two were intact. Thanks SO much for protecting me and my fellow citizens from this dire threat and costing me money that I really can't afford in the bargain (which is why I ordered them from the UK in the first place). :(

JaneApril 22, 2011 8:13 PM

I sent a letter and a picture of my sick toddler to Father Rookey ministry requesting special prayer from Him. I used EMS from Indonesia to Chicago. The letter sent from April 14 and it is stuck in
US customs until now, April 22nd.

I have all reason to be up set with this US customs since it is only a letter mail and EMS promise 3 to 7 days guarantee delivery. I hope 94 yrs old father still able to pray for my five years old toddler when my mail is released by US customs and arrive in his ministry. Do they have better scanner to scan faster such a simple documents?!!

jJune 25, 2011 7:32 AM

Yes felt violated they opened my package.Nothing to hide but felt my privacy was violated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

j

hitlesseddieMarch 17, 2012 8:16 AM

Me too!!! my passport got expired, and I was mailed a renewed one from my country via DHL but the us customs is still holding it since Tuesday, March 13, 2012 and based on the comments i read above, i get the sad feeling that I wouldn't get my passport anytime soon :( . Any one with the same experience and received the passport at the end? please email me: hitlesseddie@aim.com

JimboMarch 20, 2012 3:26 AM

I had my birth certificate and my parents marriage certificate sent to me from Germany. The DHL tracking ended when (according to the German Postal Service) the letter arrived in New York. The They are telling me that the letter 100% arrived in New York, so Customs in New York must be the problem.

This has now been going on for three weeks. Why is what I want to know. There is absolutely NO REASON to open or hold this letter with these contents. It just shows you how utterly stupid these people are. Nothing of any value, nor anything having to do with national security. Just plain and simple stupidity of the highest order. Probably some fat slob with an IQ of 101 groping my private stuff. Disgusting!!

JohnJanuary 11, 2013 8:16 PM

I agree with the one person, who gives a sh*t if someone opens your mail, grant it they don't steal it damage it, ect, but i order stuff online all the time, and why would i care if some border patrol sees my new cell phone (in fact i hope he sees and know im the man) but obviously you can see that if you have a friend who lives in a country who buys a carton of cigarettes for $13.00, then ships 500 cartoons to USA, they need to pay custom duties or taxes on that, so if they say its a box of snickers, and no one checks, The US will lose thousands of dollars (or whatever) in lost customs duties. So chill, no one is opening your stupid letter from your grandma on her vacation,

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..