Small town mayor relinquishes electronics and passwords to agents at SFO

  • An interesting story. Prescient of our future?  
  • Just last month, I read in an American publication about a news conference held by the senior leaders of the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and several other security-related agencies.  The reason they held the conference was to say to the press and the American public that this ‘tension’ between them and the public needs to be toned down.  That they are only trying to protect our security interests and that they need to be free to get on with it.
  • Interesting that they failed to note that a lot of this started when Edward Snowdon pulled the covers back from their secret programs and the public found much of what was revealed deeply unpalatable.  No comment on that and little has been done about it save for imposing a few small limitations here and there.
  • But, if those limitations are reimplemented, we’ll never know about it because it will all be done behind those same secret curtains again (and for our own good, I’m sure).
  • So, here they are in this story forcing their way into a private citizen’s private affairs/data with no warrant, no probable cause and no comment when asked about it by the press.  Basically, “Nothing to see here.  Just move along now, move along.”
  • Is this how they are going to win the public’s trust again?
  • And, isn’t the deepest irony here that if the fellow searched had wanted to hide something, he simply could have dropped an encrypted copy of it onto any of a hundred places out in the Internet cloud and erased it from his phone before entering the country.  Once home, he grabs it again from the web, decrypts it and he’s done.
  • The only criminals and terrorists the Feds are going to capture these Bully-Boy methods are the dumbest of the dumb.  
  • So what is the point then?  Simple harassment of the public? A flexing of their muscles so we can all see how very powerful they really are?  Or just a profound example of bureaucratic ineptitude wherein the left hand has no idea what the right hand’s doing?
  • dennis

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As feds battle over privacy, mayor compares the situation to North Korea.

Stockton, California Mayor Anthony R. Silva attended a recent mayor’s conference in China, but his return trip took a bit longer than usual. At the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) this week, agents with the Department of Homeland Security detained Silva and confiscated his personal cell phone among other electronics. According to comments from the mayor, that may not even be the most alarming part.

“Unfortunately, they were not willing or able to produce a search warrant or any court documents suggesting they had a legal right to take my property,” Silva told SFGate. “In addition, they were persistent about requiring my passwords for all devices.”

The mayor’s attorney, Mark Reichel, told SFGate that Silva was not allowed to leave the airport without forfeiting his passwords. Reichel was not present for Silva’s interaction with the DHS agents, either. The mayor was told he had “no right for a lawyer to be present” and that being a US citizen did not “entitle me to rights that I probably thought,” according to the paper.

As of Friday, Silva had not yet received his property from the SFO detention. SFGate reports Reichel contacted the US Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, but they would not comment on whether they still had the mayor’s possessions. The paper also reached out to a spokesperson at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but that office also refused comment. (Ars has reached out to the mayor’s office for any new information, and we’ll update this story accordingly if we hear back.)

Authorities demanding access to password-protected devices has become a hot-button issue across the country, highlighted in particular by the federal government’s ongoing battle with Silicon Valley over the lack of crypto backdoors in modern smartphones. At the end of last month, one US District Judge in Pennsylvania ruled that forcing suspects to surrender their passwords was unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.

Evidently, Silva was well aware of the situation and only had his concerns heightened by first-hand experience. Talking to SFGate, he briefly compared the government battle on privacy to notorious dictatorships worldwide.

“I think the American people should be extremely concerned about their personal rights and privacy,” Silva told the paper. “As I was being searched at the airport, there was a Latino couple to my left, and an Asian couple to my right also being aggressively searched. I briefly had to remind myself that this was not North Korea or Nazi Germany. This is the land of the Free.”

  • To the original in Ars Technica:  

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