Border Security

Security wonks like Bruce Schneier talk about things like “How to secure your laptop from being searched crossing international borders,” and I blog about it occasionally because it’s interesting from a technological point of view, but it usually seems pretty abstract. Behold, paranoia made real:

[Laura] Poitras has produced ”two of the most searching documentaries of the post-9/11 era, on-the-ground chronicles that are sensitive to both the political and the human consequences of American foreign policy.” At the 2010 Sundance film festival, “The Oath” won the award for Best Cinematography….

But Poitras’ work has been hampered, and continues to be hampered, by the constant harassment, invasive searches, and intimidation tactics to which she is routinely subjected whenever she re-enters her own country. Since the 2006 release of “My Country, My Country,” Poitras has left and re-entered the U.S. roughly 40 times. Virtually every time during that six-year-period that she has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by DHS agents who stand at the airplane door or tarmac and inspect the passports of every de-planing passenger until they find her (on the handful of occasions where they did not meet her at the plane, agents were called when she arrived at immigration). Each time, they detain her, and then interrogate her at length about where she went and with whom she met or spoke. They have exhibited a particular interest in finding out for whom she works….

She has had her laptop, camera and cellphone seized, and not returned for weeks, with the contents presumably copied. On several occasions, her reporter’s notebooks were seized and their contents copied, even as she objected that doing so would invade her journalist-source relationship.

Ms. Poitras’ next movie is aimed at exploring the domestic side of counter- and anti-terrorism measures, so she clearly has a motive in playing up her own treatment at the hands of the DHS, and the “sky-is-falling” conspiratorial tone of the article is a little much for me.

I am sure that she has been subjected to increased scrutiny at the borders, probably even intense and invasive searches. It’s not, however, part of some power grab or over-the-top attempt to silence dissent as the article’s author asserts:

As is true for all states that expand and abuse their own powers, that’s what the U.S. Government counts on: that it is sending the message that none of this will affect you as long as you avoid posing any meaningful challenges to what they do. In other words: you can avoid being targeted if you passively acquiesce to what they do and refrain from interfering in it. That’s precisely what makes it so pernicious, and why it’s so imperative to find a way to rein it in.

The simple fact is she made no effort to hide the fact that she was dealing with people that wished to harm US soldiers in Iraq and American citizens abroad. Security officials are going to do what they can to try and find out about who those people are and where they can be found (so we can drop bombs on them). While that’s not necessarily the right way of doing things and may have implications for the freedom of the press, the aim of the measures is at the people Ms. Poitras does business with, not the reporter herself.

In any case, it’s an interesting example of a theoretical security exercise made reality. Ms. Poitras should probably start reading up on her Schneier.


About thinklikeafox

I'm a Naval Officer living in Southern California. I hope to be attending law school in the next year or two, and I started writing this blog out of a desire to improve my writing and critical thinking skills after a couple years outside of academia.
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