Eliot Engel’s Border Search Reform Not Enacted

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Take note: The phrase, “except along the nation’s border” is not present in the Fourth Amendment. Yet, the federal government has been pretending that this exception exists, that border agents have the right to search and seize anything they want, without probable cause. That general avoidance of our constitutional rights along the border has been in place for some time, but it became worse under President George W. Bush, who declared last summer that computers and other digital information devices would be subject to search and seizure without probable cause by Homeland Security agents along America’s borders.

Have things changed under Barack Obama? No. That policy is still in place. Take your laptop with you on an international business trip, and U.S. border agents can take it from you and search its contents, without ever telling you why they’re doing it. In fact, they can take your computer from you even if they don’t have a reason for doing so. The American Civil Liberties Union calls Obama’s policy “a disappointing ratification of the suspicionless search policy put in place by the Bush administration”.

eliot engelOn the 7th of January this year, when George W. Bush was still President, Eliot Engel introduced a bill to the United States House of Representatives that would end this abusive and unconstitutional practice. The Securing our Borders and our Data Act, H.R. 239, would reassert the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of probable cause for all searches and seizures, including those along the border, with the following clause: “No search of the digital contents of the device or media may be based on the power of the United States to search a person and that person’s possessions upon entry into the United States, unless that search is based on a reasonable suspicion regarding that person.” The bill quickly gained the cosponsorship of libertarian Republican Ron Paul.

On February 9, after Barack Obama had been sworn in as President of the United States, the Securing our Borders and our Data Act was referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. There it has remained ever since, untouched, unexamined, stalled. The only thing that’s happened to advance the bill is the addition of Steven Rothman as a cosponsor in July.

Why has this bill, seeking to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, failed to advance? Primary responsibility for the inaction on the Securing our Borders and our Data Act lies with Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. She has the power to advance the legislation. Instead, she has chosen hold it back.

One Comment

on “Eliot Engel’s Border Search Reform Not Enacted
One Comment on “Eliot Engel’s Border Search Reform Not Enacted
  1. The border authorities will provide probable cause as needed, while they search a car without the owner present, so it is pointless to change this law without getting very specific about what constitutes probable cause.
    But why are you worried about computers only when the same applies to your vehicle and your papers?
    Now, as to computers, no legislator can stand up and say “Digital information has nothing to do with the border because all digital info can be emailed into the country any time at all, so searching for it on a physilcal machine are pointless and just holds up the line at the border.”
    The reason they can’t say this is because someone jumps up and screams “what about child porn?” and everyone forgets that this can be emailed just as easily as a business plan or legislative brief. And then the whole discussion descends into “don’t get me wrongs” and “please, I’m the last one to defend…” crap because no one wants to be seen as supporting child porn.
    If you can’t get the good old USA back to being BRAVE, that is, the home of the brave, you will never get the laws back to lofty constitutional standards and these cowardly provisions will continue to gut american and neighborly freedoms. Car searches need to be done in the presence of the owner and computers should only be searched insofar as the owner needs to be able to prove it’s a real computer and not, say, a stash for a kilo of cocaine.
    Some 2000 people (not all american) died on 9/11 or .000007 (or 7/10,000 of one percent) of the population of 300,000,000. For this many more have died in the ensuing military actions of the last decade and hundreds of millions of border crossings of innocent americans and innocent non americans too, have been subject to incredibly invasive searches by border control freaks let loose by these laws.
    I weep and rage in despair for us regular folk and our impotence to back down these legislating weasels these long ten years. Curious George has given the terrorists a gigantic win because by him america has presented that it is scared of its neighbors, while his incarnation of power-drunk border guards give the rest of us on this continent the figurative (and often literal) equivalent of the middle finger in a rubber glove.
    The way things stand right now (america) your neighbors will visit you because they need you, but the blue line at your border by its behavior will generate unwarranted hatred of everyone by association.
    What an unbelievable shame.

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