Homeland Security wants your phone passwords

“Give us your passwords”. That’s what the Department of
Homeland Security will welcome foreigners to the US
with. Not “welcome to the US of A”, or anything of that
sort. Just quietly surrender your passwords without any
fuss. Apparently, the DHS has the power to demand for
your passwords. Also, you would be denied entry if you
refuse.
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Last month, the Department of Homeland Security
ordered an Iranian-born British reporter for BBC, Ali
Hamedani, to surrender his mobile phone and his
passwords when he arrived at the Chicago O’hare
Airport. Similarly, a NASA engineer born in the US, Sidd
Bikkannavar, was ordered to release the passwords to his
phone. This happened at the George Bush
Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

In another case: the DHS ordered Maria Abi-Habib, who
was flying with an American passport, to surrender her
phone at the LAX Airport. This was followed by the order
“give us your passwords”.
At first glance, one would suspect these people of some
shady dealings. But they are not. These people are mostly
US citizens that either have ties with some Muslim
country or bear a somewhat Muslim-sounding name. But
these people are US citizens. The Fourth Amendment of
the United States Constitution protects them from
unreasonable search and seizure in the United States.

Then, this happens.
Apparently, this is a major security issue. US Homeland
Security Secretary John Kerry thinks that foreigners
entering the US to tell border security the sites they visit.

This is understandable; some of the terrorists that the US
seeks to stop actually visit some shady sites on the
Internet. However, the DHS also wants your passwords.
This gives them unrestricted access to the visitor’s
accounts. This just reminds one of Big Brother.

However, this quest for unrestricted access to people’s
accounts does not really solve anything. A lot of people
are not really the same people online as they are offline.

For example, there were two guys who were on their way
to the US. These dudes tweeted that they were going to
“destroy America”. Well, as it turns out, they were only
joking, but using this incident as justification to snoop
into people’s accounts is like arresting a kid for owning a
water-gun.

The DHS wants to know the websites you regularly visit,
and what you are looking at online. However, asking for
your password is not the way to go. Joseph Lorenzo Hall,
chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and
Technology, describes this kind of access as “profoundly
invasive”. That is true in a lot of ways. A better idea
would be to just ask for visitors’ social media handles.

This way, they still get to see what the people are seeing
without this horrid invasion of privacy that this order
entails. Well, let’s see how this will pan out. In the
meantime, Big Brother is watching you, guys.

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