Archive for February, 2017

What should you to do if you are asked for your password at a US airport or border?

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Our work is cited in an article today by Kaveh Waddell in The Atlantic, “How Long Can Border Agents Keep Your Email Password? Some data gathered from travelers going through customs can stay in a Homeland Security database for 75 years.

The article in The Atlantic highlights several recent incidents in which international travelers have been asked or ordered to tell US Customs and Border Protection inspectors the passwords to their electronic devices and/or online accounts. As in many encounters with law enforcement officers or other government agents, the distinction between a request and a command at an airport or international border is often unclear.

In one of these incidents, a Canadian would-be visitor to the US provided CBP with the password to his phone, but balked at providing the password to his accounts with LGBT dating apps and websites. He forfeited his ticket, and left the US “preclearance” site at the airport in Vancouver without boarding his intended flight to the US. A month later, when he tried again to fly to the US, carrying the same phone with the password unchanged, he found that CBP had recorded his phone password in their permanent file about him in the CBP “TECS” lifetime international travel history database.

This sort of data collection and data retention is wrong, but it’s also routine and should be expected.

For more than a decade, since DHS first disclosed the existence of its “Automated Targeting System” database, we’ve been providing forms you can use to request the files about you from TECS and other government databases, helping travelers interpret the (redacted and incomplete) responses from CBP, and reporting on what we’ve seen in the responses and how these dossiers are used in pre-crime profiling and control of who is “allowed” to fly and how they treated when they fly.

We’ve sued to obtain our travel records from CBP and information about how these databases are mined and shared by CBP and other government agencies.

After ignoring our requests for three years, DHS exempted the system from most of the requirements of the Privacy Act, including limits on data retention, when the agency realized we were about to sue.

Any disclosure to us of the government’s permanent files about our travel is now a matter of “discretion”, not a right, if we are US citizens, and expressly forbidden by an Executive Order of President Trump for anyone other than US persons.  As we told The Atlantic:

“Any limits would have to be derived directly from the Constitution or international treaties, not from statutes or regulations,” said Edward Hasbrouck, a travel expert and consultant to The Identity Project. “I am not aware of any case law limiting retention of this sort of data.”

Here’s what our experience and our research confirms: CBP officers are not your friends, and their job is not to help you. They are law enforcement officers. Their job is to find evidence of violations of the law, and/or reasons to deny you entry to the US. Anything you say to them can be retained and used against you at any time in the future, just like anything you say to any other law enforcement officers. You should expect that anything you have with you, anything you say, and anything you do at an international border, airport, or CBP checkpoint can and will be recorded. That information can and will be retained by DHS for the rest of your life. You could be questioned about it in any future encounter with CBP or other law enforcement or government agents, even many years later, and have it used against you or anyone else in court at any time, perhaps in ways you could never anticipate.

We’ve seen all sorts of information — irrelevant, inappropriate, and potentially subject to derogatory interpretations or giving rise to guilt by association — in CBP travel dossiers. We’ve been questioned at a US border crossing, years later, about completely inconsequential and legal events at another airport years earlier, because those were being recorded in the TECS database even during primary screening on a routine entry to the US by a US citizen.

What can you do, and what should you do, if you are asked to tell CBP agents any of your passwords?

We agree with all the lawyers consulted by The Atlantic: US citizens should not voluntarily provide passwords to US border guards or inspectors at airports.

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“Border” search and ID demand from passengers on a domestic flight

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Earlier this week at least two US Customs and Border Protection officers boarded a domestic Delta Air Lines flight from San Francisco when it arrived at JFK Airport in New York, stood at the doorway as passengers disembarked, and “requested” that each passenger hand over their identification “documents”.

CBP says that this was a “request“.  One passenger told Rolling Stone, “the Delta flight attendant alerted passengers, ‘You’ll need to show your papers to agents waiting outside the door.'” As shown in photos posted to Twitter by passengers here and here, the agents appear to have been between the passengers they were questioning and the exit, closing them in so that they couldn’t have left.

It’s often unclear whether a statement of what law enforcement officers “need” is a request or a demand. Another passenger, a photo editor for Vice News,  says passengers were given an order, not a potentially ambiguous statement of “need”: “We were told we couldn’t disembark without showing our ‘documents.'”

Many air travelers in the US have become inured to requests or demands for ID documents by airline clerks and TSA checkpoint staff and contractors before they are allowed to board domestic flights. But the presence of Customs and Border Protection officers on a domestic flight, and ID checks after an otherwise uneventful flight, have prompted many questions.

Is this normal? Is this legal? Should it be legal? And what should you do if this happens to you?

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The right to record police anonymously

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has joined other Courts of Appeals in finding that the First Amendment protects the right to make audio and video recording of police activities in public places, including recording police officers and vehicles outside a police station  from a public sidewalk.

The Court also found that Texas Penal Code § 38.02, interpreted in light of the decision of the US Supreme Court in Hiibel v. Nevada, does not and could not Constitutionally authorize an arrest solely for refusal to identify oneself, in the absence of some predicate basis for legitimate suspicion of violation of some other law.

In the 5th Circuit, it is now clearly established law that you can record the police anonymously in public places, without fear of arrest unless there is probable cause to believe that you have violated some other law.

The ruling in  Turner v. Driver et al.  is the the second decision this month by different three-judge panels of the 5th Circuit interpreting the Constitutional limits on Texas ID law, as applied to people engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment in public places. An earlier decision upheld the right to anonymity for a protester standing along a highway (where the sidewalk would have been, if there had been a sidewalk) adjacent to the parking lot of a strip of businesses.

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Executive Orders, lawsuits, and the right to travel

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

[D]ue process requires… notice and a hearing prior to restricting an individual’s ability to travel.

(9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Order on Motion for Stay, February 9, 2017, State of Washington and State of Minnesota v. Trump)

President Trump’s Executive Orders prohibiting entry to the US by citizens of specified blacklisted countries and cutting off all Federal grants to designated “sanctuary jurisdictions” that decline to spend their local funds and direct their employees to enforce certain Federal immigration laws have prompted a wave of litigation by individuals and, significantly, by states and cities across the US.

We welcome the increased public interest in Federal government attempts to control the free movement of free people, the new activism on the issues of freedom to travel, and the new willingness of states and municipalities to challenge restrictions on their residents’ right to travel.

There’s been much discussion and analysis of the implications of these lawsuits for these specific Executive Orders. Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to the implications for litigation over other ongoing and emerging issues of freedom to travel of what is being said, and by whom, in the litigation over the recent Executive Orders.

Here are some of our thoughts, from the trenches of more than 15 years of legal and political struggle for the right to travel, on what these cases may portend:

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Searches at airports and US borders

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

President Trump’s Executive Order expanding the pre-existing and ongoing #MuslimBan from foreign airports to US points of entry, by forbidding entry to the US by citizens of specified blacklisted countries,  doesn’t say anything explicit about searches or interrogation of people entering or leaving the US.

But this Executive Order seems to have been interpreted by US Customs and Border Protection officers at US borders and international airports and at “preclearance” sites abroad as giving them a green light for intensified questioning and searches (“extreme vetting”) of  travelers including searches and demands for passwords to laptops, cellphones, and other digital devices.

In response to this wave of digital harassment and snooping at airports and borders, several news outlets, civil liberties organizations, and free press and journalists’ rights organizations have posted technical and legal advisories about how journalists and ordinary travelers can protect their data when they travel.

We welcome this attention to airport and border search law, and these efforts to educate travelers.

We want to add one potentially significant law that few travelers (or CBP officers or TSA checkpoint staff) are aware of, and that isn’t mentioned in any of the advice to travelers about airport and border searches that we’ve seen recently: The Privacy Protection Act of 1980.

We’ve written about the Privacy Protection Act several times before, especially in the context of border searches of activists and journalists. But the protection offered by this law isn’t limited to journalists. Here’s an unfortunately necessarily refresher on what this law means and what you can do to take advantage of it:

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The right to anonymous pedestrian travel and protest

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

In a victory for the right to anonymous pedestrian travel and protest, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a civil rights lawsuit brought by a protester who was arrested while holding a sign alongside a road in Stafford, Texas (near Houston), and charged with violating  Texas Penal Code § 38.02:

Sec. 38.02.  FAILURE TO IDENTIFY.  (a)  A person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information.

The opinion of the 5th Circuit panel in Jonathan Davidson v. City of Stafford, et al. breaks no new ground, but it’s an important reminder to the public and to police of the right to protest, the right to walk the streets and highways, the right to do so anonymously — and the potential liability of police who abridge those rights.

State and local ID laws vary greatly, and it’s important to know the law in your jurisdiction. We reiterate the importance of knowing the law in your jurisdiction and seeking legal advice in advance (this blog is not legal advice) if you anticipate being questioned by police.

As we read this decision, however, the key lesson it reinforces is that laws  like Texas Penal Code § 38.02 which require people who are arrested to identify themselves can’t be used to bootstrap a general requirement for anyone on the street to identify themselves to police on demand. Such a law imposes an obligation to identify oneself only if there is probable cause for police to believe that some other law was violated.

Without some other lawful basis for an arrest, such an ID-if arrested law creates no obligation for a pedestrian or protester to identify herself to police.

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Carrier sanctions kill. Airlines collaborate.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

[Sign carried by Dan Malashock at San Francisco International Airport, January 29, 2017. Photo by Ruth Radetsky.]

Since the start of our work against restrictions on freedom to fly, well before September 11, 2001, we’ve been wondering what further outrage it would take to provoke mass protests at airports, and when that would finally happen.

Now we know. Thousands of protesters (including at least one of President Trump’s fellow billionaires) filled international airports across the country for several days and nights starting last weekend, in reaction against President Trump’s executive order to detain and deport any arriving non-US citizen known to be a citizen (even a dual citizen) of one of seven publicly blacklisted Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia,  Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.

We’ve been talking about related issues for years. Now that they are out in the open, the question is what the outraged public will do, at whom the outrage will be directed, and how airlines — yes, airlines, and not just governments — will respond.

For what it’s worth, it’s unclear whether this executive order would apply to an asylum seeker who renounces their original citizenship in one of the blacklisted countries, even one who makes that renunciation at the check-in counter or in flight, and thereby arrives in the US stateless.  This may seem a far-fetched scenario, but it is common for stateless asylum seekers to use “invalid”, forged, or fraudulent documents to board flights, and then to destroy those documents in flight so as to arrive without papers. Deportation of any stateless person, and most of all a stateless asylum seeker, is especially problematic under international human rights law. But that’s the least of the problems with President Trump’s executive order.

Here are some key things we’ve learned from our work over the last 20 years that people — including those just now beginning to think about the right to fly, especially as it relates to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers — need to understand about what is happening, who is responsible, what will happen next, and what can be done:

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