Traveller Privacy Protection Act Worth Fighting For

Thursday, October 9, 2008 

After almost eight long years of unrelentingly horrible news, of an enervating, depressing, distressing litany of stupidity and manifest religious extremism cloaked in political lies finally, finally there is one slim measure of clear thought, of defense of right of justice of decency.

It is narrowly targeted, it is in defense of the civil rights of a minority, but it is good and right and in the right direction and it deserves our full support.

The Travelers Privacy Protection Act (TPPA) is a bill that attempts to address what should be unconstitutional and illegal searches of electronic devices by DHS. Now most people might not know or even believe if they heard the rumors that DHS has claimed the right to confiscate any electronic device they want anyone carries into the US. They can keep your stuff forever. They don’t have to get permission from a judge, they don’t need probable cause or reasonable suspicion or any legally meaningful threshold to justify these seizures.

Not surprisingly, the DHS is reluctant to give up the convenience of a paperwork and accountability-free operation and there’s not too much evidence yet that they’ve been unreasonable in their use of this power, but absolute power corrupts absolutely and it is merely a matter of time before tales of intolerable abuses come to light unless the usual and assumed checks and balances are applied.

So contact your representative now and support the Travelers Privacy Protection Act, written by Feingold, Cantwell, and Smith. It sets a fairly low but legally significant standard of “reasonable suspicion” for search and limits the search to 24 hours. If DHS needs more time, they must find (either on the device or by other means) justification for “probable cause,” which may justify seizure.

Only the United States presumes such unchecked power to snoop through people’s private lives. No other country will seize devices without any judicial oversight. A very strong argument for applying minimal legal standards to DHS seizure is that failure to do so will ultimately justify other nations taking the same position. While the US has, for the bulk of those who pass under suspicion, protected nominal rights it is not necessarily true in other countries and the data on our laptops and phones might be used for political or industrial gain.

The US must strive to set the standard for protecting rights or we will continue to lose any premise of moral authority in world affairs.

Your support helps.

Posted at 00:00:08 UTC

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