DHS re-establishes power to search and seize without probable cause

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: DHS, searches, probable cause

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(NaturalNews) When state legislators ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791, they did so with assurance from the founding fathers that the central government would always exist within the parameters of the Constitution.

Some 220-odd years later, that initial pledge has been broken so many times it is difficult to keep track. The latest violation is as blatant as it is unconstitutional, but that system of checks our framers thought they had institutionalized within our founding document has long since ceased to be effective.

Sacrificing liberty for a little temporary security

The latest outrage comes via the Department of Homeland Security, the behemoth all-encompassing "national security" agency that increasingly operates as if there had never been a Declaration of Independence, a Revolutionary War and a Constitutional Convention.

Apparently, the department - along with other federal agencies - have granted themselves the authority to search and seize electronic devices from anyone who enters the U.S., without probable cause.

The self-granted authority has its genesis in a case from about four years ago. Per Forbes magazine:

Agnieszka Gaczkowska, a 29-year-old doctor and entrepreneur from Poland, was traveling through Detroit's airport on her way to Boston when her bag was selected for random inspection. The inspection officer asked her if she had any documents with her. Exhausted after a long journey, she replied that she did not, forgetting that she had put a few outstanding bills in one of her textbooks.

Suddenly, she found herself in serious trouble. The inspection officer found the bills and accused her of "lying to a federal officer." They held her for two hours as she was interrogated about the details of her life. The officer ordered her to turn her phone on, and then proceeded to read her e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages without her permission. She was shocked. Eventually, Gaczkowska was released, but she wondered if this was a common practice.

As it turns out - it is...

After review, the department reaffirms its unconstitutional behavior

Scores of thousands of travelers face a similar situation every year. And just as it is with another DHS-run agency - the Transportation Security Administration - there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the searches.

And though the department's autobots have already been committing serial violations of the Fourth Amendment, for some reason DHS felt the need to quietly release a strangely worded reaffirmation of their operatives' rights to search and seize electronics at will anywhere along the border (which DHS defines as up to 100 miles inland).

According to Wired.com, the department announced in 2009 it would conduct a review of its warrantless search and seizure procedures within 120 days. Three years later, the department's office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a two-page executive summary of its findings, which essentially reaffirmed its earlier unconstitutional behavior.

"We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits," said the findings.

The warrantless search-and-seizure of electronic devices - which are considered by many in the industry to be the modern-day equivalent of housing our "papers and effects" - was first implemented during the final days of the Bush administration in 2008; they were continued under President Obama. According to DHS data, some 6,500 people had their electronic devices searched between 2008 and 2010.

Surveillance of private communications 'poses a grave danger'

According to U.S. legal precedent, the Fourth Amendment's protections do not apply along the border, Wired.com reported. But you don't have to be a lawyer or a U.S. court to read the text of the amendment to know that border or not, the government does not have an inherent right to search without reasonable suspicion.

"There should be a reasonable, articulate reason why the search of our electronic devices could lead to evidence of a crime," Catherine Crump, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Wired.com. "That's a low threshold."

In a brief opposing the practice, the group Privacy Rights Watch points out that the founding fathers adopted the Bill of Rights "against the background of knowledge that unrestricted power of search and seizure could also be an instrument for stifling liberty of expression." (Marcus, 367 U.S. at 729)

"Surveillance of private communications therefore poses a grave danger to free speech," the group concluded.





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