Saturday, April 26, 2008

U.S. Customs: Straight Men Inherently Suspicious

Sherman Oaks, California

An adult man who appears to be sexually attracted to adult women is a possible child molester – that is the logic employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that enforces immigration and customs laws at airports.

The Ninth Circuit, the federal appeals court in the westernmost United States, recently reviewed the case of Michael Timothy Arnold. Upon returning to the U.S. from the Philippines, Customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport found alleged child pornography on his laptop. The Ninth Circuit held that government officials do not need a reason to search laptops at a border (and an airport has long been held to be the equivalent of a border). United States v. Arnold, No. 06-50581 (9th Cir. April 21, 2008).

While the Ninth Circuit’s decision was unfortunate, it was also predictable. A returning U.S. citizen has almost no Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches or seizures at a border. The government can search luggage, pockets, etc., for any reason or no reason. More personally invasive searches like a strip search require “reasonable suspicion,” but searching a laptop does not.

But the facts of the Arnold case demonstrate that, in the eyes of the U.S. government, ordinary male sexuality is suspicious. Agents inspected Arnold’s laptop and found a photograph that “depicted two nude women,” according to the Ninth Circuit. Based on that, the agents alerted their supervisors, detained Arnold for hours and seized the laptop, eventually finding “what they believed to be child pornography.” (Arnold has not been tried, entitling him to a presumption of innocence.)

The photograph which triggered the incident was almost certainly a photograph of adult women. The District Court noted that the “government has not presented evidence that the photo depicted minors.” If the photo had been kiddie porn, the government would have said so immediately, and the case would not have made it up to the Ninth Circuit.

Thus, the U.S. government is enforcing a policy that a straight man’s normal – and perfectly legal – interest in naked adult women is inherently suspicious activity which warrants detention, search, seizure and questioning.

I generally disregard the argument that the Bush Administration is attempting to impose a theocracy, but incidents like this make me wonder.

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Blogger Nathaniel said...

The Bush administration!?! Which circuit did this come out of again?

7:31 AM  

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