Monday, April 05, 2004

...but not for you

- When the Shrubberies announced the plan to photograph and fingerprint travelers arriving in the US, some critics noted that the plan exempted nations that operate under a visa waiver program. No problem for an administration always ready to expand its reach.
Washington, April 2 - The Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that it planned to require travelers from 27 industrialized nations, including longtime allies like Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Japan and Australia, to be photographed and electronically fingerprinted when they arrive in the United States. ...

Under an existing program, airport inspectors began photographing and fingerprinting travelers who need visas to visit the United States in January. ...

[Asa Hutchinson, an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security,] said he did not believe the move would deter tourists from visiting the United States, but acknowledged that some countries might retaliate by instituting tough new requirements for Americans traveling abroad. He went on to say the Bush administration would applaud such decisions from foreign leaders.
That's not what they were saying in January.

It will be interesting to see reaction to this and its effect on tourism, especially when the lines start backing up. Of the 19 million foreign visitors to the US in 2002, almost 13 million came from the 27 newly-affected countries. That means the workload of fingerprinting and photographing will triple.

Sidebar: Administration officials downplayed any effect on travel to the US.
They argue that tourists will be willing to undergo the screening once they learn that the digital fingerprinting and photographing typically takes 15 seconds and does not leave visitors with ink-stained fingers.
Oh, yeah, that's the real issue here. Not presumption of guilt, not invasions of privacy, not Big Brother, but ink-stained fingers. Right.

- Inch by inch, rights under the Fourth Amendment are being stripped away. It's long been established that if you're arrested, police can search "the immediate area" of the arrest; I even recall a case where the search turned up some drugs and even though the arrest was found to be improper the drugs were still declared admissible as evidence under a separate charge of possession! Recently, it was ruled that if police upon entering your home feel unsafe, they can search the house (provided only that the search is "brief," whatever that may mean).

I remember a while ago a court decision finding that it was legal for police to search the passengers of a car because since it wasn't their "possession," they had no "reasonable expectation of privacy" there. And even if it is your car, well, forget it. From the Christian Science Monitor for March 31:
"When you are in a car, you are fair game," says Tracey Maclin, a law professor and Fourth Amendment scholar at Boston University School of Law.

The limited privacy protections that do exist for cars may shrink even more as a result of a case set for oral argument Wednesday at the US Supreme Court. At issue in Thornton v. US is whether police may conduct a search of a passenger compartment without a warrant even if they arrest the driver or a recent occupant outside the car.

If a majority of justices permit the practice, it would expand an existing rule from a 1981 Supreme Court decision [that] allowed police to search a car's interior, without first obtaining a warrant, whenever a suspect is arrested while inside the car.
The Readers Digest version of the case is that in July 2001, a police officer in Norfolk, VA, became suspicious of one Marcus Thornton after noticing that the license plate on his car did not match the registration.

(Question: Why was the check being made at all? Just random "see what I can find" fishing? I thought "random checks" were illegal.)

Thornton went to a shopping-center parking lot and got out of his car. The officer confronted him about his car registration. He consented to a frisk, which revealed marijuana and crack cocaine in his pocket.

(Question: How could a frisk, supposedly intended to reveal hard objects that could be weapons, reveal that?)

Thornton was arrested, his car was searched, a loaded gun was found, and he was convicted of drug and weapons charges. On appeal, his lawyer contended the gun should not have been admitted because the warrantless search was illegal. A federal appeals court panel in Richmond ruled against him and the case has gone to the Supreme Court.

What's idiotic about this having gotten this far is that it runs directly contrary to the original justifications for such searches from the 1981 case: that it was to protect police by allowing them to search for weapons that might be within reach and to prevent the destruction of evidence. Now, never mind that I find those to be excuses, not reasons (the difference being that excuses come after the fact, reasons come before it), and just consider the present case: Neither of those conditions applies if the suspect is approached outside the car! They just don't.

US Solicitor General Ted Olson argued against limitations on such searches.
"Such a limitation would create an incentive for suspects to jump out of cars before police initiate contact with them and, at the same time, encourage police to rush contact with suspects before they can exit a car, creating a potentially explosive dynamic," he says in his brief.
The fact that that argument is transparently stupid (in the real world, there would be little difficulty in obtaining a warrant to search the car of someone arrested just after emerging from it) shows that the real issue here for the Ashcroft thugs and the 21 states that agree with him is not protecting police but expanding government power.

It's coming to the point where the only way the Fourth Amendment applies to you is if you never leave your house and never let anyone else in, either.

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