On November 3, 2010 a US citizen returning to Cambridge, MA from a trip to Mexico was questioned at the airport by the Department of Homeland Security. It is not clear where Homeland Security gets its lists of suspicious folks but I thought they were to protect us from terrorists.
Seems this citizen was involved with a non-profit supporting Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classfied documents to WikiLeaks.
Our citizen was released but DHS retained his laptop, USB drive and camera for almost two months. Enter the ACLU of Massachusetts, which brought suit on free speech and unlawful search grounds; there was nothing illegal about our citizen’s support for the non-profit and thus no seeming basis, under traditional legal analysis, for searching or seizing any property.
This month ACLU lawyers go to court to challenge the oppressive impact of hassling travelers whose sole sin appears to be the exercise of First Amendment rights. We all should be following the case ofHouse v. Napolitano, which will be argued this month in US District Court in Massachusetts.
The incursions on liberty are growing yet viewed singly and at first blush may appear subtle. They also can be dismissed as reflecting a paranoid fear of a government we all know in fact is benign. But those who know of McCarthy, of J. Edgar Hoover, and of the corruptive nature of combining excess zeal with unbridled power need to react against these incursions. Today the government can easily know where we are physically, and what we say over the internet and on social media (which are the modalities of communication most used in our society). The assumption that, if our government is doing it then, it is intelligently and fairly performed flies in the face of experience and of the societal judgment of liberal and conservative alike; this is an area where all should agree that big government involvement is thought unwise by all political viewpoints.