So, in light of what I’ve been saying over the last few posts about giving the government some leeway in the pursuit of terrorists, today’s is about how those special freedoms can be abused. The government has been using some special power they have at the border to do things that those special powers were not originally meant for. So, let’s talk about some ethical issues.
Here’s the story. There’s this private in the army who leaked a bunch of documents to Wikileaks, was arrested, and is in jail. There’s this other guy who was part of the fundraising team for the private’s defense. This fund-raiser guy, David House, went on a trip to Mexico, and on the way back he was detained at the border, had all of his electronic equipment was confiscated, which was copied and analyzed by the Army Criminal Investigation Command (ACIC) over a period of seven months. The problem? They did not have a warrant to search his equipment, nor any indication that he had been involved in criminal activity. So how was he able to be detained as he was? Well, the United States Border Patrol (USBP) has a certain amount of leeway in the way they conduct searches. Since there is a lot of smuggling that happens on the US border, courts have been willing to allow the USBP to conduct unauthorized searches as a means of deterrence and prevention. When the ACIC realized they needed information on House they put an alert on the government network saying that if he crossed the border they were to confiscate his electronics for processing. in other words, because the government could not examine his things without a warrant, and they did not have enough information to get one, they used the special permissions of the border patrol as a work around, getting themselves the information they needed deviously, and yet still legally.
What’s the big problem here? For me it is not that they government used the border patrol to get information. If there had been anything suspicious about House, then I might even uphold their decision. No, the problem is that there was not reason to suspect House of any wrongdoing, and so the government used its powers to try and find something to convict him of. They were not looking for evidence of a crime, but rather a crime they could evidence. I’ve talked a lot about giving the government the right to look where they need to to stop terrorism and stuff. I have not talked as much about the possibility, perhaps even surety, of those rights being misused. The government is not good, neither is it bad. It is neutral, and the actions it takes are shaped by the people in government who are in positions of authority. These people are sinners just like everybody else, and as such they will by default misuse their powers. That’s pretty much a given. Therefore it is necessary to limit their extent of the government powers, while still letting the do what thy need to do. In California this same issue has come up, in a case very much like the one involving House, and as a result a ruling has been made saying that before electronic equipment can be searched there has to be reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. This is a step in the right direction. I would add to that rules such as that the special permissions at the border apply only to people the Border suspects, and that the information the Borer collects is confidential, an can not be shared with other agencies except as is necessary for national security. Also, as this report points out, the authority of the border patrol should be confined to the border, and not extend too far inland.
In the book named after himself Daniel makes some enemies, not because he did anything wrong, but because he did everything right, and as a result the king honored him. In response the other wise men plotted to get rid of Daniel, and the first thing they did was try and find something, anything, they could pin on him. They found nothing, and so they changed the law of the land in such a way that they knew he would break it. This is what I thought of when I read about the case of David House. People using their authority wrongly, as a tool of self-promotion, rather than civil protection. May our country be protected from the wiles of those who would use their positions to further their own ends, rather than to protect their people.