Anthony Silva, the mayor of Stockton, California, recently went to China for a mayor’s conference. On his return to San Francisco airport he was detained by Homeland Security, and then had his two laptops and his mobile phone confiscated. They refused to show him any sort of warrant (of course) and then refused to let him leave until he agreed to hand over his password:
“A few minutes later, DHS agents confiscated all my electronic devices including my personal cell phone. 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. In addition, they were persistent about requiring my passwords for all devices,” Silva said.
Silva was not allowed to leave the airport until he gave his passwords to the agents, which the mayor’s personal attorney, Mark Reichel, claimed is illegal.
The mayor said the agents told him confiscating property from travelers at the airport was “in fact routine and not unusual,” and promised to return the items within a few days.
To some extent what the DHS told him is true. It’s not that unusual, but it’s not that common either. But forcing him to turn over the passwords is unusual, and not standard practice. Besides, courts have been growing increasingly less impressed with Homeland Security’s willingness to ignore the Constitution at the border.
The feds, of course, refuse to say anything, saying they cannot confirm or deny anything. Silva first claimed that he’s “happy to cooperate and comply with these inspection procedures if they are in fact routine and legal,” but pretty quickly notes how ridiculous all of this is:
“I think the American people should be extremely concerned about their personal rights and privacy,” he said. “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.”
So they keep telling us.