Sunday, June 29, 2008

Freedom Free Airlines

As I get ready to fly the unfriendly skies, heading home today after our jaunt to Miami for a few days of orientation at South Beach U for our daughter, this is certainly not the article I wanted to see. The US News & World Report, in Seizing Laptops and Cameras Without Cause, reports:

Returning from a vacation to Germany in February, freelance journalist Bill Hogan was selected for additional screening by customs officials at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Agents searched his luggage, he said, "then they told me that they were impounding my laptop."

Shaken by the encounter, Hogan examined his bags and found the agents had also inspected the memory card from his camera. "It was fortunate that I didn't use [the laptop] for work," he said, "or I would have had to call up all my sources and tell them that the government had just seized their information." When customs offered to return the computer nearly two weeks later, Hogan had it shipped to his lawyer.
Although there are challenges that have been filed in court to this policy, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case upheld the right of Customs and Border Protection to conduct searches without reasonable suspicion. Laptop Searches in Airports Draw Fire at Senate Hearing, so I'm not very optimistic.

John Dean also wrote about these issues recently, see Airline Passengers, Beware The Government Does Not Protect Your Rights When You Fly, As a Recent Federal Appellate Decision Attests and Why Congress Must Act to Protect Air Passengers A Lawsuit Brought by Passengers Trapped on the Tarmac Without Basic Necessities.

I've mentioned ad infinitum that I hate to fly, see e.g., Fear of Flying. However, it seems that the indignities only grow as time goes on. People grouse, yet acquiesce to the searches, seizures and dehumanization inflicted on us at airports. Of course, the reality is that we have not choice -- express an objection and security is alerted, leading to a detention, if not arrest. Emboldened, the government and TSA go further, ensuring that we have no privacy or any other rights if we dare decide to board an airplane.

The latest outrage is particularly troubling to me, because my laptop contains client information. That raises issues of attorney-client privilege, which would require me to try to stop the seizure and possible viewing of this information. I can just imagine my objecting to some security person trying to take my laptop and my ending up being taken away in handcuffs. I guess I just have to keep my fingers crossed that I'm not one of the (un)lucky ones.

On another note, luckily lightening didn't strike when I went into the campus chapel for one of the parent's sessions at the University.

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