The recent reports – including here on LN – about the government demanding password devices at the border for a warrantless search are getting a fair amount of traction across the web. The central question that most people ask is What happens if I refuse to give my password to the Border Patrol agent? It’s a substantial question; anytime citizens consider standing up to unconstitutional government acts they need to be ready for possible consequences.
Ars Technica talked to legal experts about this very question, and the answers are disturbing.
“The short answer,” writes Cyrus Farivar, is that “your device probably will be seized…and you might be kept in physical detention – although no one seems to know for how long.” Also, according to federal law, you could be charged with a misdemeanor as well.
CBP or Immigration and Customs Enforcement “may demand technical assistance, including translation or decryption,” citing a federal law, 19 US Code Section 507. A related document says that “Officers may seek such assistance with or without individualized suspicion.” Refusing to comply with this statute is “guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of not more than $1,000.” It does not mention the amount of time that an in-airport detention could potentially last.
That answer should concern everyone – not just people who travel internationally. The fact that American citizens are being asked to unlock their phones and subject themselves to a warrantless search is disturbing enough. The additional knowledge that the government considers the border a “constitution-free zone” should ring alarm bells of the highest order (this map shows the ‘border within a border’ where the government does not recognize many Constitutional rights in practice).
The threat of detention – even temporary – and seizure of all devices has a very particular effect on those who might be inclined to stand up against the rights violations. No one wants to go to the airport and spend the next several hours in a cold detention room or have their phone taken away. No one wants to be late for their flight, or be detained on their way home after what certainly was a long trip. Refusal is inconvenient; it can even be frightening or have long-term consequences for travelers.
The system is designed to be that way; it is purposely created in such a way to make compliance the easiest option, and refusal so incredibly inconvenient and even dangerous that people are discouraged from standing up for their rights.
This situation presents a dilemma for Americans who understand their rights and expect them to be respected by the government. Should we comply just to get along, knowing that our liberties are being trampled on? Or do we stand up, knowing that it will bring us consequences we don’t want and shouldn’t be subjected to by the government?
Each American citizen needs to make that choice for themselves; the concept of free will is at the heart of liberty. But be aware that while every act of quiet compliance is convenient and easy, you still have the choice to refuse. Don’t leave your children with a nation where even the choice is taken away.