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Wikileaks Jacob Appelbaum confounds US customs w Bill of Rights thumbdrive

US-based Wikileaks colleague Jacob Appelbaum has a humorous account of his reentry yesterday to the US. Flying into Newark last July his laptop was searched and his cell phones confiscated. This time Appelbaum tweeted ahead that the ACLU would be his welcoming party, among other measures, recounted through Twitter:

Tweets by ioerror

I am not practically able to transport electronic devices. I will be radio silent before, during, and for some time after my flight.

I think that it is unlikely that there will be any serious trouble. With secret courts and sealed orders… the only way to know is to go.

I’m heading to the airport from Reykjavik and expect to be in the US around 16:40 PST Monday afternoon. Perhaps everything will go smoothly.

I am out of the airport and back in Seattle. Nothing more for now, sleep time.

It’s very frustrating that I have to put so much consideration into talking about the kind of harassment that I am subjected to in airports.

I was detained, searched, and CBP did attempt to question me about the nature of my vacation upon landing in Seattle.

The CBP specifically wanted laptops and cell phones and were visibly unhappy when they discovered nothing of the sort.

I did however have a few USB thumb drives with a copy of the Bill of Rights encoded into the block device. They were unable to copy it.

The forensic specialist (who was friendly) explained that EnCase and FTK, with a write-blocker inline were unable to see the Bill of Rights.

I requested access my lawyer and was again denied. They stated I was I wasn’t under arrest and so I was not able to contact my lawyer.

The CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) agent was waiting for me at the exit gate. Remember when it was our family and loved ones?

When I handed over my customs declaration form, the female agent was initially friendly. After pulling my record, she had a sour face.

She attempted to trick me by putting words into my mouth. She marked my card with a large box with the number 1 inside, sent me on my way.

While waiting for my baggage, I noticed the CBP agent watching me and of course after my bag arrived, I was “randomly” selected for search.

Only US customs has a random number generator worse than a mid-2007 Debian random number generator. Random? Hardly.

During the search, I made it quite clear that I had no laptop and no cell phone. Only USB drives with the Bill of Rights.

The CBP agent stated that I had posted on Twitter before my flight and that slip ended the debate about their random selection process.

The CBP agents in Seattle were nicer than ones in Newark. None of them implied I would be raped in prison for the rest of my life this time.

The CBP agent asked if the ACLU was really waiting. I confirmed the ACLU was waiting and they again denied me contact with legal help.

All in all, the detainment was around thirty minutes long. They all seemed quite distressed that I had no computer and no phone.

They were quite surprised to learn that Iceland had computers and that I didn’t have to bring my own.

There were of course the same lies and threats that I received last time. They even complemented me on work done regarding China and Iran.

I think there’s a major disconnect required to do that job and to also complement me on what they consider to be work against police states.

While it’s true that Communist China has never treated me as badly as CBP, I know this isn’t true for everyone who travels to China.

All in all, if you’re going to be detained, search, and harassed at the border in an extra-legal manner, I guess it’s Seattle over Newark.

It tok a great deal of thought before I posted about my experience because it honestly appears to make things worse for me in the future.

Even if it makes things worse for me, I refuse to be silent about state sponsored systematic detainment, searching, and harassment.

In case it is not abundantly clear: I have not ben arrested, nor charged with any crime, nor indicted in any way. Land of the free? Hardly.

I’m only counting from the time that we opened my luggage until it was closed. The airport was basically empty when I left.

It’s funny that the forensics guy uses EnCase. As it, like CBP, apparently couldn’t find a copy of the Bill of Rights I dd’ed into the disk.

The forensics guy apparently enjoyed the photo with my homeboy Knuth and he was really quite kind. The forensics guy in Newark? Not so much.

The CBP agent asked me for data – was I bringing data into the country? Where was all my data from the trip? Names, numbers, receipts, etc.

The mental environment that this creates for traveling is intense. Nothing is assured, nothing is secure, and nothing provides escape.

I resisted the temptation to give them a disk filled with /dev/random because I knew that reading them the Bill of Rights was enough hassle.

I’m flying to Toronto, Canada for work on Sunday and back through Seattle again a few days later. Should be a joy to meet these guys again.

All of this impacts my ability to work and takes a serious emotional toll on me. It’s absolutely unacceptable.

What happens if I take a device they can’t image? They take it. What about the stuff they give back? Back doored? Who knows?

Does it void a warranty if your government inserts a backdoor into your computer or phone? It certainly voids the trust I have in all of it.

I dread US Customs more than I dreaded walking across the border from Turkey to Iraq in 2005. That’s something worth noting.

I will probably never feel safe about traveling internationally with a computer or phones again.

None the less, safe or not, I won’t stop working on Tor. Nor will I cease traveling. I will adapt and I will win. A hard road worth taking.

A solid argument for free software: To check the integrity of your hardware and your software against tampering. No binary (firmware) blobs.

I’d like to think that when I visit my family in Canada this weekend and attend a work conference that Canada won’t hassle me. Am I dreaming?

Will the Canadian government simply act as an arm of the US policy of detaining, searching, and harassing me? Oh Canada! I hope not.

It’s interesting to note that some media initially reported that I had no trouble because I said nothing at all. Irony abounds.

My border experience reminds me of the old monochrome quote: “Land of the Free? Land of the Free Refill!”

Why do we allow US Customs to lie and to threaten people? It’s a crime to lie to them and they do it as their day job. Why the inequality?

3 thoughts on “Wikileaks Jacob Appelbaum confounds US customs w Bill of Rights thumbdrive

  1. Legally, if one human being grabs the arm of another human being and prevents the second human being from going where the second human being has a Human Right to go, it’s kidnapping. Aggravated kidnapping because the grabbing of the arm would be assault and battery.

    If the arm grabber has other human beings or animals (like his/her dog) then it becomes Aggravated Assault as well.

    In Texas that could get you two consecutive Life Sentences.
    Unless you’re a uniformed THUG pig.
    Or their Pet Minuteman Nazi Brownshirt THUGS.
    Or TSA, ICE…
    It wouldn’t matter how long the unlawful detention lasts when the two parties are “civilians”. It would still be Unlawful Detention.

    The Uniformed Badge-toting Thugs can murder you if you resist being unlawfully detained by them.
    Only they’ll call it “Suicide by Cop”.
    Lying cowardly sacks of shit.

    The more times they do that the more often they’ll encounter somebody walking into “their” coffee shop while they’re having their donut break and laughing and boasting about all the crimes they’ve committed and their Uniforms And Badges allow them to get away with it,

    And pull his own gun, put it in the Pigs face and use the bullet to put the pigs face into the back of his skull. Or do it to four of them at once. Then their widowed Sows and Piglets will be all standing around at the funeral boo-hooing about Daddy’s coward ass being sent to Hell.

    They really have nobody to blame but themselves.
    “Back the Badge”.

  2. Actually upon reconsideration… it doesn’t seem possible their software could be so bad that it doesn’t know how to find, say, plain text, or a PDF, or a JPEG, just because it isn’t in a filesystem.

    It sounds like a cop-out to me. They probably did find it, but if they deny it then they can say that they want to keep searching the disk for the data that’s *really* on the disk.

    It’s also highly suspect that the US thinks someone like Applebaum would ever feel the need to carry data *physically*. He wrote Tor for crying out loud!

    If you ask me this is just like what they’re doing to Manning: sending the signal that if you are identified as someone against US interests who the media and the public will not stand up for, your life will be made a living hell in whatever way is expedient for the US.

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