Twice in the last week, different reports of laptop confiscation have crossed the Technocracy desk. The first is not so terribly surprising; the second is much more alarming. In both cases, however, the disturbing trend goes to the very heart of what makes us free citizens – if we can, in fact, make that claim. In modern society, saturated as we are with and by consumer technology and its applications, we are our data. Your laptop doubtless contains multiple secrets, pieces of identifying information and sensitive documents that belong to you and you alone. Even your music player tells an observer a great deal about you, and if you listen to podcasts that are more than just music, a window into your soul and your belief system is readily available for anyone who cares to snoop through your files. When a man "inspects" your computer's contents or rifles through your backup devices, he is peering into you, as often as not. This is nothing we can afford to dismiss casually.
The first report I received was an unconfirmed discussion board posting, from those presumed to be "in the know," that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was demanding that all personal electronics be submitted for inspection at KSA airports. These checks, to be performed prior to reaching the airport's "immigration section," were alleged to apply to all mobile phones with cameras and memory cards, any and all flash drives, USB sticks, and hard drives, all laptop and notebook computers, and even iPods and other MP3 players and their memory cards. According to the posting, the Saudis supposedly use a specialized USB device to scan the contents of the suspect electronic device. The presence of contraindicated material, from pornography to pirated software and any and all other software and data banned in Saudi Arabia, was alleged to prompt confiscation of the device. While there are no fines associated with the confiscation, the posting claims that those who refuse to give up their devices will be jailed and deported.
Security forces in Egypt, meanwhile, are allegedly using confiscation of electronic devices to stifle dissent, taking memory storage devices and computer equipment from bloggers targeted for their online activism. They are apparently doing this in violation of their own constitution. Of course, to target a blogger or other online activist, you've got to first identify him and put him on some sort of enemies list. The existence of these lists in totalitarian near-theocracies, or the mechanisms to compile them in less-than-free nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, doesn't surprise us. Should we all pause, then, to wonder aloud what happened to the e-mails submitted to [email protected]? Should we be surprised if there's a room reserved for you, for your friends who post on WorldnetDaily and FreeRepublic.com, for Michael Savage, for Glenn Beck, and even for me, Phil Elmore, at an Obama administration re-education camp somewhere in the Nevada desert?
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Returning to the Saudis, this site confirms that "… Saudi Arabian Customs officials have authority to screen all electronic devices. ... Anyone found to be carrying pirated or explicit materials will have their equipment confiscated. … [R]efusal to comply with this rule will result in detention and/or deportation." We expect extreme censorship in a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy like Saudi Arabia. Such things could never happen in the United States, though ... could they?
This brings us to the second report I read this past week, this one from Paul Suarez at PC World. According to Mr. Suarez, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said quite explicitly that their officials can and will search whatever electronic or memory storage device they wish, at whim, without probable cause or other justification. Given that under Glorious Leader Obama, any and all political opposition is being redefined as domestic terrorism, American citizens could easily be targeted for harassment and even imprisonment by the newly incarnated jackbooted thugs at DHS. After all, if a cursory inspection of your laptop – as, say, you cross back into the U.S. from a family trip to Niagara Falls for the weekend – reveals that you're one of those dangerous right-wing libertarian conservative third-party terrorist nutjobs, well, you can't expect us to let your constitutional rights get in the way. This is especially true if Obama is upset that you're saying mean things about him on your blog.
Increased scrutiny of electronic devices is not a surprise to any reasonably informed citizen. Our electronics are a bigger part of our lives and of our day-to-day activities than ever before. A savvy and efficient security process takes this into account.
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Where the problem truly arises is where problems occur whenever individual rights and individual property collide with the demands of an increasingly statist government and with genuine communitarian needs and requirements for security of the state. Any treatment of individuals in a free society must be based on the recognition that a citizen – and even a visitor to this free land – is innocent until proven guilty, and that he or she must be treated with utmost respect unless and until we have probable cause to view him or her as a potential threat. Even then, the assumption must be that the individual under scrutiny might yet prove to be innocent of any crime. We dare not do anything to him that permanently infringes on his rights, and this includes stealing his property and invading his personal data.
Our free society and our Constitution recognize and condemn the concept of unreasonable search and seizure. It is a shame when the less free nations of the world show casual disregard for this concept. It is a much more regretful and a thoroughly alarming shame, however, when the government of the United States adopts this same casual contempt for your rights. Sadly, in Barack Hussein Obama's technocracy, the ability to search you electronically and seize your data arbitrarily is only too easily accomplished ... and only too readily accepted.