President Obama did not mention it in his State of the Union address last night, and there hasn’t been much attention devoted to it in the Congress of late; but, the fundamental right to privacy Americans have a right to expect from their own government, has suffered yet another body blow.
On the surface, things seem to be in order. For example, at the beginning of February, the Federal Trade Commission released a staff report outlining consumer privacy recommendations for developers of mobile phone apps. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz called the recommendations “best practices” intended to “safeguard consumer privacy,” that would “build trust in the mobile marketplace.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the Obama Administration hasn’t gotten the message.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), headed by Secretary Janet (“Big Sis”) Napolitano, just reaffirmed its policy that Americans returning home from travels abroad are subject to arbitrary searches and seizures of their computers and other electronic devices.
The controversy surrounding warrantless and suspicion-less searches at the U.S. border has been brewing for years. In 2009, for example, Napolitano asserted the government’s right to inspect and detain electronics from all persons traveling into the United States, and to copy any information stored on those devices. Continuing this view, the department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties last week released its “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of the directives after originally setting a 120-day deadline back in August 2009.
As has become typical, the report contends the government can have its cake and eat it too. Confusingly, DHS concludes “current border search policies comply with the Fourth Amendment,” but that actually requiring federal agents to follow the Constitution would be “operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits.” In other words, what government is doing is constitutional even though the cost of following the Constitution would outweigh the benefits to be realized by the citizens. Clear? As mud.