Saturday, September 27, 2008

Read and Copy (by Phila)

Be it known:
The Bush administration has overturned a 22-year-old policy and now allows customs agents to seize, read and copy documents from travelers at airports and borders without suspicion of wrongdoing, civil rights lawyers in San Francisco said Tuesday in releasing records obtained in a lawsuit.
There's not much I can -- or should have to -- say about that. What I find really interesting here is the evolution of this practice.
[T]hose policies were first enacted by President Ronald Reagan's administration in 1986, in response to lawsuits by U.S. citizens who were questioned and searched after returning from Nicaragua. President Bill Clinton's administration refined the policies in 2000 but made no major changes, Sinnar said.
In other words, these policies had their origins in the political harassment of US citizens, at least some of whom were undoubtedly providing humanitarian aid to a country whose democratically elected government was under attack by the Reagan administration, on the grounds that it posed an existential threat (Nicaragua, you'll recall, was only "two days' driving time from Harlingen, Texas").

Clinton left the policies more or less intact. Now, Bush has expanded them. Previously, there had to be "reasonable" grounds for seizing and copying documents. Now, it's simply a matter of autocratic whim. This is a good example -- if we needed another -- of how Democratic administrations postpone, rather than reverse, the slide into authoritarianism. It's conceivable that Obama will reject these powers, and dismantle them. It's even more conceivable that he won't, which ought to (but probably won't) give conservatives pause for thought.

You can read the FOIA documents on these policies here.