No privacy rights within 100 miles of U.S. border

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Founder & Director

10 July 2010: It is no secret that I am pro-law enforcement – very pro-law enforcement, in fact. Some of my best friends are law enforcement officers who work in local, state and federal agencies. On my wedding day in 1991, I lost a friend who was a police officer in Houston, Texas when he pulled over a car and was subsequently shot during the course of a traffic stop.  I also lost a friend and several acquaintances, all law enforcement officers, in the 2001 attack on America by Islamic terrorists. Their job is among the most dangerous, especially in today’s environment, so I am in favor of any “tool” that would keep them and our country safer.

Within the last month, however, I personally found myself at odds with law enforcement while traveling  by car close to the U.S. border with Canada. I was within 5 miles of our northern border in the state of New York, yet well inside the U.S. with no intention of crossing the border. In fact, I could not even see the border and was not in close proximity to any border crossing point. Nonetheless, I encountered what could be best described as a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint.

Although I personally was not subjected to any searches and the questions asked of me were relatively non-invasive, at least one or two other motorists appeared to have hit a “speed bump” on the road called homeland security. They were pulled aside, and one of the federal officers appeared to be holding or looking at a cell phone or small camera. The license plates on both vehicles I observed being subjected to a secondary search were of U.S. origin.

Due to schedule issues, I was unable to perform any on-site inquiries about the apparent “mobile checkpoint,” although I contacted a law enforcement source later that day who verified that it was a “rolling checkpoint”  that was being conducted by the U.S. Border Patrol. What greatly disturbed me, however, was what I learned later about  the activities taking place at the makeshift “secondary” inspection location. This is where the two motorists were pulled aside, and one agent appeared to be inspecting an electronic device from one of the vehicles.

I was surprised to learn that federal agents, specifically those with the U.S. Border Patrol, have the right to inspect an individual’s cell phone (including call history, text messages and photographs), computers, cameras and even GPS units without needing reasonable cause or suspicion. Furthermore, that “right” extends up to 100 miles inland from our north and south borders.

My source provided me with an overview of the criteria the agents were using to select vehicles for a secondary inspection, although for legitimate security reasons, I will not disclose that criteria. I will confirm, however, that the additional inspection was not due to the physical appearance  or any factors related to race/ethnicity of the vehicle occupants that would suggest that they might be from outside the U.S.  In fact, I was told that those manning the checkpoint were not sufficiently equipped to handle the detention of illegal aliens, “especially if more than one or two happened to be discovered.” Although I was assured that “persons of interest, if located, would be detained appropriately,” I am unconvinced that detention would extend to suspected illegal aliens whose names were not on any such “list.” My law enforcement source candidly expressed similar doubts during our conversation.

In summary, if you find yourself traveling on public roads within 100 miles of either of our land borders, some of the freedoms granted to you as an American by the U.S. Constitution do not appear to apply. As I stated,  I am “pro-law enforcement,” and understand that the men and women of law enforcement are doing what they have been ordered to do. I also hold dear the rights and freedoms given to me by the U.S. Constitution. The two should never be - must never be -mutually exclusive. In this case, that’s exactly what they’ve become.

While the corporate media continues to peddle its pabulum to the masses who seem to be  more concerned about Lindsay Lohan and Lebron James, our rights are on the fast track to extinction.  Kim Komando, computer expert and talk radio host, talks about this issue and electronic privacy while traveling in this brief video: