When I was a little boy, my mother advised me, whenever we crossed the Canadian border, “Don’t speak until you’re asked a question, and then just answer the question. Don’t say anything extra, and don’t make any jokes. Customs agents at the border have the power to detain you and search through all your things whenever you’re crossing the border. You don’t want to irritate them.” The government intrusion was justified, my mother said, because when a person crosses international boundaries, they can reasonably expect to be challenged by government agents who protect the borders of the country being left and the country being entered. Searchings at a border crossing can be interpreted as reasonable, and therefore constitutional under the 4th Amendment, because crossing an international boundary is an unusual event with a concrete connection to specific security concerns.
Evidence has emerged, however, that the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has expanded its powers of search far beyond the reasonable, specific and concrete work of scrutinizing people crossing the borders of the United States. The Bureau is now using flying robots – drones – to conduct surveillance of people within the United States who are not crossing the border, but are simply going about their everyday lives.
EPIC – the Electronic Privacy Information Center – writes that, “A 2012 Report of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Inspector General demonstrated that CBP had flown drones for the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various local law enforcement agencies, among others. As a result of this practice, anyone in the United States could be subject to surveillance by a CBP-owned drone.”
That’s language taken from a petition signed just a couple of days ago by EPIC – a petition that 24 other organizations dedicated to protecting privacy rights within the USA have also signed. These organizations are asking the Obama Administration to stop allowing the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to target people within the United States using drone aircraft equipped with surveillance equipment that is capable of monitoring electronic communications on the ground and tracking individuals movements.
Yes, Barack Obama has found yet another way to violate our Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Is that what Obama voters wanted him to do with his presidential powers?