“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.
Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone — which pretty much holds the whole of my life.
I’ll explain precisely how this happened in just a bit — in the hopes that perhaps you can take precautions that I did not. But let’s first establish that this practice is not unusual. According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, this has become the standard backdoor method of search used today by governments around the world.
At border crossings, governments have discovered that they can get away with seizing and searching electronic devices from smartphones to laptops to tablets. The reason is that it is standard practice that border officials can ask you anything. Anything at all. You have to answer. They can make you empty the full contents of your brain and check for even the smallest misstatement. You can refuse to answer, but then you can expect detention for untold amounts of time. So of course, you comply.
If this is standard practice, it makes perfect sense that there is not anything they are not entitled to know. This is why they have begun to profile people based on their devices.
Maybe there was nothing I could have done to stop it. Maybe I was somehow fated to be among the 15 that were hit with this. But as I look back, I realize now that I was far too nonchalant in my whole approach. I’ve crossed that border dozens of times and never had any trouble. I expected no trouble this time.
The problem began at passport check. I was coming into Canada just to visit friends, but my dress suggested business. An official later confirmed to me that this was the first point that caused me to be flagged. Then, in stating my traveling route to get to that point, I flubbed a bit on the cities I had been in (some I entered by car and others by plane). I just wasn’t focusing, and I was just a bit too chatty and casual.
As I became increasingly flustered, the agent apparently marked my customs form to indicate that I should undergo a secondary screening. I didn’t know this had happened. As I casually presented my form to the last agent in the line, he signaled for me to follow a different path. I did so. There were no agents around. There were no officials. I just walked and walked until I found myself in a long and nearly empty room.
I realized that I was going to be there for a few minutes at least, and that I was in some kind of lineup. I was, essentially, under arrest. Unguarded, but arrested. There was nowhere to go. I could not go forward nor could I go back. There was no one to protest to.
I asked the people ahead of me how long they had been there. Forty-five minutes. I pulled out my laptop and starting watching an episode of Breaking Bad to pass the time.
After about an hour, I was called up. At first, everything seemed fine. The official wanted some clarification about whom I was visiting. They wanted the phone number in particular — a startling demand, but one never knows for sure when one should comply or refuse. Of course, I didn’t have the number memorized.
This was (I think) when I made my fateful decision. I reached into my pocket. I pulled out my smartphone. I unlocked it. I pulled up the contact information. Instead of reading it out loud, I showed the agent the number. She calmly took the phone — which I thought she was doing so she could see the number better.
In an instant, she was gone. She went to some back room somewhere. I stood there at the counter, completely unguarded. My heart started to race. My palms grew sweaty. I began to fidget. After all, my whole life was suddenly in the hands of a government official. My emails, my phone calls, my Facebook messages, my contacts far and wide, my financial information, my browsing history — even my diet and exercise routines were there.
And incredibly, I had unlocked it all and handed it over.
I stood there in this vulnerable situation for 30 minutes. Next to me, a man was being interrogated about the contents of his own smartphone. He had claimed that he had no family in the country. But officials confronted him with evidence that he had sent an email only 30 minutes earlier to a family member in Canada.
“You lied to us. Why did you lie to us?” they kept pressing. And the only reason they knew this was that they had read his email. It is almost unbelievable to me that this whole scene was taking place, almost as if there are no protections at all in place for a normal understanding of privacy and human rights. All is fair in love, war, and border crossings.
She returned finally, and with a new countenance. I was free to go. I said to her, in the most gentle possible way, “You know, I was really alarmed that you took my cellphone. I was just standing here for 30 minutes, and you had my cellphone the entire time. Was that necessary, really?”
She answered that she had to take it, to or else I might have made phone calls to people and ruined their investigation.
What could I have done but nod my head and go on my way — shaken, but feeling like I had narrowly escaped some unknown fate.
What did I learn?
- Never approach the passport window without being extremely clearheaded about what you are going to say.
- Don’t ever reverse your story in light of questioning. Tell necessary truths, but never volunteer unnecessary information.
- Put all your digital devices away deep in your bags. Do not pull them out at any point in approaching any border. And if you ever get a secondary screening, prepare to have all necessary information stored in some place other than your live cellphone.
I can’t guarantee that if I had done this, all would be well. They could have searched my bags (which they did not!) and found all my devices. One way or another, they might have had their way with me. But I didn’t have to make it so easy.
Live with Leviathan and learn as we go. We have no rights. We are all one tiny step from formal incarceration. But in many ways, the whole of society is already in jail. All we can do is keep plotting our escape.