Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Department of Homeland Security Search and Seizure Policy--A Threat to Anthropologists?

On February 15, NPR's Morning Edition reported that two civil liberties groups—the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Asian Law Caucus—are suing the Department of Homeland Security to force it to disclose its policy for searching US citizens and their electronic devices when re-entering the United States.

The NPR piece, “Suit Accuses Homeland Security of Illegal Searches” opens with the story of a naturalized US citizen who recently returned from a three-week trip to Jordan. According to the piece, customs agents demanded to know the names of everyone the woman met in Jordan and the addresses of all the places she visited. They confiscated her cell phone, and when it was returned, her record of recent calls had been erased.

Many anthropologists may not be aware of the rights of the government to copy all documents, including electronic documents, carried across the borders. As scholars and professionals who frequently conduct research outside the US, anthropologists may be placed in a difficult and potentially unethical position if required to reveal confidential information about their informants to US customs officials.

Share your thoughts. Have you ever been subject to search and seizure policies at US Customs? In light of Homeland Security policies, what precautions should anthropologists take to protect those whom they study? What actions, if any, should the AAA take to uphold its Code of Ethics?

Related Links

CNet News article

Boing Boing article - includes a pdf copy of the EFF complaint

AAA Code of Ethics