The ACLU is at it again. The most recent post on the ACLU blog attacks me for defending the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tactic of searching laptops at the border. The purpose of the searches is to prevent criminal activity. In one recent case, officers found a traveler’s computer loaded down with child pornography. The ACLU criticism seems strange, since all that I did was point out that the courts have ruled that officers have a legal right to conduct these searches and that since malicious actors including criminals and terrorists often store material related to their crimes on computers searches seem a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I wrote: “Terrorist threats aside, there are numerous other criminal and malicious activities that routinely seek to exploit the relative freedom of traversing US borders. There is a rampant problem of drug, weapons, and human trafficking which occur at our borders.”
I also argued that CBP ought to establish clear and reasonable standards to ensure that the material taken in any search was handled appropriately including respecting information and property of individuals. I wrote: “It is important that we take into consideration concerns over privacy when conducting searches on an individual’s laptop, and thus this practice should be done in a responsible manner. The best strategy to secure this country is a layered and risk-based approach.” The ACLU ignored this part of my testimony.
While the ACLU blog attempted to make me out as an enemy of civil liberties and privacy (not to mention criticizing my co-author’s bowtie, clearly an important aspect of the issue), my testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary argued anything but—while privacy is an important issue that should not be brushed aside, the right approach is to develop policies that serve security, liberty, and prosperity equally well. I wrote: “The public policy debates about security and civil liberties are often framed in a zero sum context—where any advance in national security policies necessarily comes at the expense of civil liberties. In practice, however, good public policies equally advance the causes of enhancing public safety and security and protecting individual liberties.”
The ACLU blog post in fact hypes a Heritage recommendation in Winning the Long War “ –any intrusion on liberty should be justified by its proven effectiveness.” Searching laptops at the border is effective in keeping dangerous people and information out of the United States.
If the bloggers at the ACLU spent more time looking after real civil liberty issues than trying to demonize Heritage analysts the national discussion over how to keep America safe, free, and prosperous might be a lot more constructive.