Not Visiting the US

I won’t be visiting the US in the forseeable future.

For some time I have been concerned about the malfunctioning legal process and other related issues that arose from the so-called “War On Terror“. But the most recent news is that the TSA may just copy all the contents of your laptop or even steal it [1].

Law enforcement agents can search property if they see evidence of a crime in progress or if they have a search warrant. They can seize property as evidence in a trial, but if the property in question is not illegal then it will be returned afterwards.

The TSA take property from travellers without any reason for doing so and do not return it. This is not law enforcement, it is banditry.

It’s bad enough catching a late train while carrying a laptop and risking a junkie trying to steal it. When bandits have police protection (as the TSA do) then it becomes an unacceptable risk.

The TSA have recently apologised for making people remove iPods and other devices from their luggage [2]. Strangely this has been interpreted by some people to mean that the TSA won’t be stealing data and hardware from travellers. I’m sure that if the TSA was going to stop searching laptop hard drives and confiscating laptops then they would have announced it.

From now on I will avoid entering US territory (even for connecting flights), except in the unlikely event that someone pays me an unreasonably large amount of money such that I am prepared to travel without electronic gear.

I know that some people in the US won’t like this (some people flip out when anything resembling a Boycott is mentioned). I am not Boycotting the US, merely avoiding bandits. If the fear of bandits hurts your business then you need to get a law enforcement system that can deal with the problem.

On a related note, check out the TSA Gangstaz [3] video, funny.

18 comments to Not Visiting the US

  • Joe Buck

    As an American, I sympathize with your position; I, too, am outraged by the conduct of the TSA.

    But you should be aware that the Canadian government, as well as the British government, engage in similar practices; the Canadians in particular have been known to grab people’s laptops who are trying to enter the country and go searching for porn. No probable cause needed. And the British are constructing the world’s biggest surveillance state; paranoia appears to be an Anglo-Saxon trait.

    Unfortunately the position of all of these governments is that someone entering the country gives up normal rights, and can be searched arbitrarily.

    Fortunately, you kicked out Howard, so hopefully things are better than this in Australia.

  • AC

    Please do boycott the U.S. I have lived in the U.S. all my life and can say nothing good about where we are headed. Perhaps doing some damage economically will knock a little sense into these politicians who think the government was meant to be savior to all Americans. Something must change.

    And while Mr. Buck is correct, I would argue that pointing to other governments making the same mistakes doesn’t lessen the issue in the U.S. The U.S. is not Canada or the UK, and our mistakes are ours alone.

    Thank you for standing for something.

  • Not that widespread…. I travel through US airports every other week and have never run into any TSA agents who have done more the just look at the laptop to make sure it was put onto the belt and not part or in my travel bag. This includes several “random” searches where they have gone through my entire laptop bag.

  • Stoval

    1 down, a billion more to go!

  • ateimporta

    Mr. Coker, you should know that actually is not the TSA who confiscates laptops, the responsible people are the customs Officials. Not that it’s any better.


  • James

    It’s not the TSA, it’s US Customs that are taking laptops.

  • Jimmy Kaplowitz

    In addition to what Joe said about this being common in some other Western countries’ border procedures, I should add that it’s not the TSA which does customs stuff at the border; they just do airport security. As such, the TSA is not actually supposed to be stealing data or laptops from travelers, nor do they do it except when local TSA agents deviate from what national TSA policy allows. This is why their apology is not disingenuous and makes sense.

    The actual culprit is Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which does share a common parent organization with the TSA (the Department of Homeland Security or DHS) but is not the same thing. I *am* outraged by their conduct on this issue, and thankfully the article you read was about a court case which is currently ongoing regarding this, and which has a reasonable though far-from-certain shot at overturning the policy. (The judiciary is still rather independent in this country, even if President Bush has increased the degree of its politicization.) Regardless, criticism should be directed at the right organization, which admittedly is not easy to do on the first attempt for someone from a different country, or even for many Americans.

  • I don’t see what’s wrong with calling it a boycott. They’re doing something stupid, and can justifiably be punished by travel consumers for it.

  • Shannon

    The article states that it’s largely Muslims and Arabs being targeted. Unless you grow the beard again, somehow I doubt you’ll ever be mistaken for a Muslim or Arab, Russ.

  • Gernot Hassenpflug

    I sympathize with the position taken, and wonder if this will enable travellers to resort to the same trick that cash-transport firms and banks use: to state that they do not know the password to their computer, but that it will be given to them at the destination. This means that encrypted data on the drives cannot be forcibly extracted by the CPB under threat, and if the CPB does not allow the passenger onwards because of this, then they should be liable for full damages. After all, if the CPB want to copy the data, they may get all the 0’s and 1’s (which is bad enough!), but they could not refuse someone entry to the country on that basis, just as they cannot be sure what a person is thinking….

  • Alphag

    I am not surprised that the USA is paranoid, it dam well should be. Consider pretty much every conflict over the last 50 years has been influenced in some way by the USA, whether starter, supporter or invader.

    They now reap the benefit of self induced saviours of the world especially in areas where they sponsored the violence ie Iraq and supplying WMD to Saddam (when he was a friend)

  • etbe

    Joe Buck: Opinion varies about the various types of surveillance. When I lived in London I had no problem in being filmed every time I walked down the street, that simply isn’t an issue that concerns me. I am aware of the UK laws introduced more than 5 years ago that permit scanning the contents of laptop hard drives, but I am not aware of any reports of them being used – the practice concerns me more than the legislation (the US laws are actually better than that of most countries in terms of protecting property – pity that they aren’t obeyed).

    AC: For a while I was spending more than $4000 a year on accommodation, food, conference fees, etc in the US. I doubt that missing my $4000 a year is going to affect the US much. The owner of a company that used to receive a good chunk of that $4000 told me that his congressman is right-wing by neo-con standards so he is not going to waste the paper writing a letter of complaint to his representative.

    Jonathan: Did you know that all allegations of “terrorist” activity are investigated, even the ones that are obviously inspired by malice? The contents of your blog may be less likely to inspire hostile or stupid reactions that involve the TSA and similar organisations.

    ateimporta and James: Of the three cases used as examples in the first three paragraphs of the Washington Post article I cited, one was of someone leaving the US (which I believe would be due to the TSA) and two were entering (which I guess could be customs – unless there was a connecting flight involved). AFAIK customs don’t search people leaving the US.

    Paul: Whether it’s called a Boycott is determined by the motivation. Captain Boycott left Ireland within a year due to the Boycott action – which was the intent. I don’t think that the US government will be affected by my actions, and it doesn’t really matter to me.

    Shannon: All it takes is one false allegation to get you on the watch list. I’m sure that I have offended enough neo-cons to get someone to do that…

    Gernot Hassenpflug: That’s a good idea if you are working for a multi-national corporation. When someone is travelling for their own reasons or working for a small company the imbalance of power is much greater.

    Alphag: It’s true that the US has sponsored much of the badness that has happened in the world since the end of WW2. However the evidence shows that mostly this doesn’t “blowback”. The people in the US shouldn’t really be afraid of blowback either, if it starts becoming a problem then they could simply stop supporting dictators, encouraging and starting wars, etc. It’s not as if the majority of the US citizens would in any way suffer if their government ceased sponsoring terrorism.

  • Eh?

    To all leftists on this board: Yeah, we fucking hate YOU too!

  • etbe

    Eh: Is that supposed to encourage me to visit the US?

    But seriously, I don’t hate anyone in the US, I feel sorry for them.

    Not that I was planning to visit Oregon anyway.

  • Eh?

    Not trying to convince you to visit. In fact, PLEASE stay away. We have enough issues with our resident worthless leftists.

    Got that?

  • etbe

    Eh: Why the hostility? The “leftists” as you call them are the ones who contribute the most to the US economy. Please encourage any “leftists” you meet in the US to emigrate to Europe or Australia, it would help our economy (and the US economy is already in the toilet so it wouldn’t do any harm there).

    Incidentally do you enjoy having your rights steadily removed by your supposedly right-wing government (which is more fascistic than following the traditional libertarian “right-wing” ideals)?

  • Richard S

    I would refer Alphag to (run by the Swede’s) to see who was supplying Saddam with weapons. I think he would find Russia, France and China topping the list.

    I am not a supporter of US policy in the Mideast but this is one of the big lies put forth by those ignorant of what is really happening in the world. Enter reality Alphag, you might (but I have no great hope) become smarter through it.

    The US sold Iraq about the same amount of arms as Denmark. Germany, France and the Dutch sold him the precursors to chemical weapons and the French were in the business of selling him nukes. Sorry to have to educate you.

    I think those who spread lies regarding this issue are the new “Useful idiots” of whom Lennin (not John) spoke.

    I apologise for my poor English.

  • etbe

    Richard: There is no evidence that Saddam ever had nuclear weapons. The US government wanted to find such things and a significant amount of resources trying to do so without any success.

    Also note that AlphaG did not claim that the US supplied most of Saddam’s weapons, merely that they were involved in the wars in the middle east. Take particular note of the US support for the Shah of Iran, the US involvement with Egypt and Afghanistan (both of which contributed to the rise of al Quaeda), the US bases in Saudi Arabia (the removal of which is at the top of Osama’s wish-list), and the support of Israel.

    The site seems to be down at the moment.