Entries Tagged "ACLU"
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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.
According to the Associated Press:
State motor vehicle officials nationwide who will have to carry out the Real ID Act say its authors grossly underestimated its logistical, technological and financial demands.
In a comprehensive survey obtained by The Associated Press and in follow-up interviews, officials cast doubt on the states’ ability to comply with the law on time and fretted that it will be a budget buster.
I’ve already written about REAL ID, including the obscene costs:
REAL ID is expensive. It’s an unfunded mandate: the federal government is forcing the states to spend their own money to comply with the act. I’ve seen estimates that the cost to the states of complying with REAL ID will be $120 million. That’s $120 million that can’t be spent on actual security.
According to the AP, I was way off:
Pennsylvania alone estimated a hit of up to $85 million. Washington state projected at least $46 million annually in the first several years.
Separately, a December report to Virginia’s governor pegged the potential price tag for that state as high as $169 million, with $63 million annually in successive years. Of the initial cost, $33 million would be just to redesign computing systems.
Remember, security is a trade-off. REAL ID is a bad idea primarily because the security gained is not worth the enormous expense.
See also the ACLU’s site on REAL ID.
They actually think this is a good idea:
Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant.
Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats.
“This is an in-your-face type of strategy. It’s letting the terrorists know we are out there,” Fernandez said.
The operations will keep terrorists off guard, Fernandez said. He said al-Qaida and other terrorist groups plot attacks by putting places under surveillance and watching for flaws and patterns in security.
Boy, is this one a mess. How does “in-your-face” affect getting the people on your side? What happens if someone refuses to show an ID? What good is demanding an ID in the first place? And if I were writing a movie plot, I would plan my terrorist attack for a different part of town when the police were out playing pretend.
The response from the ACLU of Florida is puzzling, though. Let’s hope he just didn’t understand what was being planned.
EDITED TO ADD (11/29): This article is in error.
EDITED TO ADD (11/30): more info.
The Washington Post reports that the FBI has been obtaining and reviewing records of ordinary Americans in the name of the war on terror through the use of national security letters that gag the recipients.
Merritt’s entire post is worth reading.
The ACLU has been actively litigating the legality of the National Security Letters. Their latest press release is here.
Also, the ACLU is less critical than I am of activity taking place in Congress now where conferees of the Senate and House are working out a compromise version of Patriot Act extension legislation that will resolve differences in versions passed by each in the last Congress. The ACLU reports that the Senate version contains some modest improvements respecting your privacy rights while the House version contains further intrusions. There is still time to contact the conferees. The ACLU provides more information and a sample letter here.
History shows that once new power is granted to the government, it rarely gives it back. Even if you wouldn’t recognize a terrorist if he were standing in front of you, let alone consort with one, now is the time to raise your voice.
EDITED TO ADD: Here’s a good personal story of someone’s FBI file.
EDITED TO ADD: Several people have written to tell me that the CapitolHillBlue website, above, is not reliable. I don’t know one way or the other, but consider yourself warned.
On Dec. 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam tried to enter the United States from Canada at Port Angeles, Wash. He had a suitcase bomb in the trunk of his car. A US customs agent, Diana Dean, questioned him at the border. He was fidgeting, sweaty, and jittery. He avoided eye contact. In Dean’s own words, he was acting “hinky.” Ressam’s car was eventually searched, and he was arrested.
It wasn’t any one thing that tipped Dean off; it was everything encompassed in the slang term “hinky.” But it worked. The reason there wasn’t a bombing at Los Angeles International Airport around Christmas 1999 was because a trained, knowledgeable security person was paying attention.
This is “behavioral assessment” profiling. It’s what customs agents do at borders all the time. It’s what the Israeli police do to protect their airport and airplanes. And it’s a new pilot program in the United States at Boston’s Logan Airport. Behavioral profiling is dangerous because it’s easy to abuse, but it’s also the best thing we can do to improve the security of our air passenger system.
Behavioral profiling is not the same as computerized passenger profiling. The latter has been in place for years. It’s a secret system, and it’s a mess. Sometimes airlines decided who would undergo secondary screening, and they would choose people based on ticket purchase, frequent-flyer status, and similarity to names on government watch lists. CAPPS-2 was to follow, evaluating people based on government and commercial databases and assigning a “risk” score. This system was scrapped after public outcry, but another profiling system called Secure Flight will debut next year. Again, details are secret.
The problem with computerized passenger profiling is that it simply doesn’t work. Terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of crowds by computers. Terrorists are European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, male and female, young and old. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British with a Jamaican father. Jose Padilla, arrested in Chicago in 2002 as a “dirty bomb” suspect, was a Hispanic-American. Timothy McVeigh was a white American. So was the Unabomber, who once taught mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. The Chechens who blew up two Russian planes last August were female. Recent reports indicate that Al Qaeda is recruiting Europeans for further attacks on the United States.
Terrorists can buy plane tickets—either one way or round trip—with cash or credit cards. Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 plot, had a frequent-flyer gold card. They are a surprisingly diverse group of people, and any computer profiling system will just make it easier for those who don’t meet the profile.
Behavioral assessment profiling is different. It cuts through all of those superficial profiling characteristics and centers on the person. State police are trained as screeners in order to look for suspicious conduct such as furtiveness or undue anxiety. Already at Logan Airport, the program has caught 20 people who were either in the country illegally or had outstanding warrants of one kind or another.
Earlier this month the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of behavioral assessment profiling. The lawsuit is unlikely to succeed; the principle of “implied consent” that has been used to uphold the legality of passenger and baggage screening will almost certainly be applied in this case as well.
But the ACLU has it wrong. Behavioral assessment profiling isn’t the problem. Abuse of behavioral profiling is the problem, and the ACLU has correctly identified where it can go wrong. If policemen fall back on naive profiling by race, ethnicity, age, gender—characteristics not relevant to security—they’re little better than a computer. Instead of “driving while black,” the police will face accusations of harassing people for the infraction of “flying while Arab.” Their actions will increase racial tensions and make them less likely to notice the real threats. And we’ll all be less safe as a result.
Behavioral assessment profiling isn’t a “silver bullet.” It needs to be part of a layered security system, one that includes passenger baggage screening, airport employee screening, and random security checks. It’s best implemented not by police but by specially trained federal officers. These officers could be deployed at airports, sports stadiums, political conventions—anywhere terrorism is a risk because the target is attractive. Done properly, this is the best thing to happen to air passenger security since reinforcing the cockpit door.
This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.