“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.
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.