Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Am Detained By The Feds For Not Answering Questions

UPDATE: The comments have raised many issues, and I address the most salient ones in a new post titled "10 Brief Responses To 700 Comments About Refusing To Answer Questions At Passport Control."

Sherman Oaks, California

I was detained last night by federal authorities at San Francisco International Airport for refusing to answer questions about why I had travelled outside the United States.

The end result is that, after waiting for about half an hour and refusing to answer further questions, I was released – because U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration are not obligated to answer questions.

* * *

“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently. She said that her questions were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress instead of refusing to cooperate with her.

She asked me to take one of my small bags off her counter. I complied.

She picked up the phone and told someone I “was refusing to cooperate at all.” This was incorrect. I had presented her with proof of citizenship (a U.S. passport) and had moved the bag when she asked. What I was refusing to do was answer her questions.

A male Customs and Border Protection officer appeared to escort me to “Secondary.” He tried the good cop routine, cajoling me to just answer a few questions so that I could be on my way. I repeated that I refused to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country.

“Am I free to go?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

The officer asked for state-issued ID. I gave him my California Identification Card. I probably didn’t have to, but giving him the ID was in line with my principle that I will comply with an officer’s reasonable physical requests (stand here, go there, hand over this) but I will not answer questions about my business abroad.

The officer led me into a waiting room with about thirty chairs. Six other people were waiting.

The officer changed tack to bad cop. “Let this guy sit until he cools down,” the officer loudly said to a colleague. “It could be two, three, four hours. He’s gonna sit there until he cools down.”

I asked to speak to his superior and was told to wait.

I read a book about Chinese celebrities for about 15 minutes.

An older, rougher officer came out and called my name. “We’ve had problems with you refusing to answer questions before,” he said. “You think there’s some law that says you don’t have to answer our questions.”

“Are you denying me re-entrance to my own country?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and walked away.

I read for about five more minutes.

An officer walked out with my passport and ID and handed them to me.

“Am I free to go?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

But we weren’t done.

I picked up my checked bag and was told to speak to a customs officer. My written declaration form had been marked with a large, cross-hatched symbol that probably meant “secondary inspection of bags.”

The officer asked if the bags were mine; I handed him my baggage receipt.

He asked if I had packed the bags myself. I said I declined to answer the question.

He asked again, and I made the same reply. Same question; same response. Again; again.

“I need you to give me an oral customs declaration,” he said.

“I gave you a written declaration,” I said.

“I need to know if you want to amend that written declaration,” he said. “I need to know if there’s anything undeclared in these bags.”

I stood silently.

Visibly frustrated, he turned to a superior, who had been watching, and said that I refused to answer his questions.

“Just inspect his bags,” the senior officer said. “He has a right to remain silent.”

Finally! It took half an hour and five federal officers before one of them acknowledged that I had a right not to answer their questions.

The junior officer inspected my bags in some detail, found nothing of interest, and told me I could leave.

* * *

Principal Take-Aways

1. Cops Really Don’t Like It When You Refuse To Answer Their Questions. The passport control officer was aghast when I told her that my visit to China was none of her business. This must not happen often, because several of the officers involved seemed thrown by my refusal to meekly bend to their whim.

2. They’re Keeping Records. A federal, computer-searchable file exists on my refusal to answer questions.

3. This Is About Power, Not Security. The CBP goons want U.S. citizens to answer their questions as a ritualistic bow to their power. Well, CBP has no power over me. I am a law-abiding citizen, and, as such, I am the master, and the federal cops are my servants. They would do well to remember that.

4. U.S. Citizens Have No Obligation To Answer Questions. Ultimately, the cops let me go, because there was nothing they could do. A returning U.S. citizen has an obligation to provide proof of citizenship, and the officer has legitimate reasons to investigate if she suspects the veracity of the citizenship claim. A U.S. citizen returning with goods also has an obligation to complete a written customs declaration. But that’s it. You don’t have to answer questions about where you went, why you went, who you saw, etc.

Of course, if you don’t, you get hassled.

But that’s a small price to pay to remind these thugs that their powers are limited and restricted.

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1 – 200 of 481 Newer› Newest»
OpenID Andrew Todd said...

What are your thoughts on the legality of bag search and computer search at US Customs?

2:16 PM  
Blogger moi said...

Thanks for posting this. Good luck with your future travels.

Foreign nationals don't have the rights that you have, of course, when entering the US, but when they are treated in an unjustifiable way, there is nothing they can do about it except resent.

How have the border authorities of other countries behaved towards you as a foreign visitor? I'm curious to know how they compare with each other and their US counterparts.

6:08 AM  
Anonymous ECS said...

Well handled. I must look into what the laws are in Canada -- would like to take your lead and stand up to rude, nosy customs officials. I have been avoiding flying via the US because they give me grief over certain country stamps in my passport.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous daniellam said...

I think you might have been confused by the tasks the officer at the US entry point was performing.

The reason why you were being asked the purpose of your trip to China was actually a CUSTOMS and NOT IMMIGRATION question. In countries like the US, and Canada, the officers that you see when entering the country perform both immigration and customs duties.

In places like Hong Kong, the officers you first see perform only immigration duties.

Please see my post at for a more detailed explanation.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Michael P. Manti said...

Why is the function the officer was performing relevant? Immigration or customs, the questions were inappropriate. Paul's a law-abiding citizen; they can't deny him re-entry to his own country.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Tom Salemi said...

well done.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I traveled from Houston to Mexico City and back via Greyhound recently. On my way back through Laredo, we were all asked to exit the bus so they could use a giant x-ray on the bus.

I was the only white guy and presumably the only non-Spanish speaker. I asked the guy if I needed to get my bag and he said yes, so I went back on the bus and got my bag. He sent me over to "secondary" where another guy interrogated me. He searched my bag and in the process ruined my zipper. He seemed surprised to learn I was a prosecutor. He wanted me to show him my badge or a card, which I did not have with me. He asked me when and where my last international trip was. I told him the Caymans, but he wanted to know what my point of entry was. I took from this that he knew the answer to the question he was asking. After the interrogation, I was the only person whose bags went through the X-ray. The first guy came over and searched my bags again: he seemed frustrated that he was wrong, that I didn't have drugs, warrants, or a bunch of cash.

As a prosecutor, I sit in court every morning and listen to defense lawyers bitch about how unreasonably the police have treated some Defendant. I realize there is a good reason for searching a young-faced, scruffy, white guy returning from Mexico by bus(although it made me uncomfortable).

What I don't like is that there is a database where all of my travels and interactions with CBP personnel are logged. I am not, after all, a criminal. It is desirable to keep detailed information about suspected criminals. Maintaining records about every person who travels is fucked up.

I admire what you've done, but I am not willing to deal with the hassle associated with taking your approach.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Paul! I crossed the border back from Canada today and was grilled off and on and forced to sit and stew for over an hour by a Customs officer who just could not believe the truth of what I was telling her about my personal business in visiting Canada. The whole time I was thinking that I don't have to answer these questions. From now on I am following your lead, fill out the form and tell them that as an American citizen my personal business is none of theirs. They are public servants, I am the public!

6:36 AM  
Anonymous stephenv said...

You should always record the names of government officials with your personal accounts. It is time the internet was used to publically shame these people who abuse their authority, even on the peon level.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Actually even if you are a US citizen Customs can deny you entry. Dude got lucky they didn't feel like keeping him around. They could have made him sit in the holding area until he died if they felt like it.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Debb said...

Yay for you! This happened to my husband when we returned from visiting England in Bostons Logan Airport, mind you they detained HIM and not me! Idiots.

10:20 AM  
Blogger The Younger said...

If you can join us in declaring our right to be Americans.

10:45 AM  
Blogger john lichtenstein said...

It's easier for an American to go to Canada or Mexico than to come back. It's easier even to get stopped in Canada for some violation (no NAFTA letter, no identification of any kind, I am still building up my resume of Canadian immigration violations) and lectured by the patrolman before he waves you through than to enter our own darn country with all our docs in order. One of these days I will stop and go back.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous taiyyaba said...

This was a privilege that Mr. Lukacs had the luxury of trying. On the whole, it turned out well for him, even though he got a little bit hassled. Can you imagine what would happen if I - a scarf-wearing Muslim woman - tried this trick? Or, God forbid, my husband - a bearded young Muslim man? Both of us are born and bred American citizens. I'm an attorney. But we would get treated much differently if we exerted our right as Mr. Lukacs did. Unfortunate, but true.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm consistently amazed at how much easier it is as a US citizen to enter Europe than it is to re-enter my own country.

I'd love to follow Paul's example, but I'm not thrilled at the prospect at being labeled as a troublemaker in a Federal database. I suppose that's what they rely on to engage in their petty tyranny, isn't it?

6:22 PM  
Anonymous John Nelson said...

Very interesting post. I've written a little on the subject of border crossing.

On an aside to your conclusions, I would like to point out that while you may not have a legal obligation to answer questions, that does not mean they have a legal obligation to let your baggage through.

The current state of the law allows the government to search and seize your baggage without a warrant or reasonable suspicion while crossing into U.S. borders. Whether this is what the law should be is another matter (and I've argued it should change).

I am wary of of the whole database thing. It's not that the database exists, although I am not a fan, but it is more the knowledge that it is also so poorly implemented and relied upon as to be, as a customs and border protection tool, completely useless except for harassment and power-trip purposes.

The new full-body scanners are also worrisome. Coming back from studying law in England was my first exposure to these. I flew into Atlanta on an 8 to 9 hour flight. My wife was with me and we had only recently found out she was pregnant. Sure enough, they were trying those full-body scanners.

In a jet-lagged daze I was led to one. After stepping up to it, I suddenly realized what it was and stated my refusal to submit to the scan. Surprised, the TSA agents took me to a pat-down area in the middle of the scanning area (in plain view of everyone) and proceeded to do a half-hearted pat down.

The worst part about TSA security measures are not the measures themselves, but the knowledge that they are no more than kabuki theater in their effectiveness.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Trevor said...

Have you considered writing a guide for others that would like to follow your example? I'm sick and tired of the assault on my constitutional rights.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like homeboy showed up at the airport looking for trouble and he found it. What got him hassled was acting like an ass and refusing to cooperate, and sounds like the guys recognized him from having done this before. I carry no water for the airport inspection guys who can be major idiots but I don't believe in provoking a confrontation with them either by refusing even moderate cooperation. If you act suspicious by refusing anything but the name rank and serial number thing, it is reasonable for them to consider you suspicious. You get no props from me.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Rhayader said...

@Daniella: The reason why you were being asked the purpose of your trip to China was actually a CUSTOMS and NOT IMMIGRATION question.

And this matters...why, exactly? He can't be forced to answer questions about the nature of his trip, no matter what the motivation from Big Brother's side.

Anyway, great piece Paul. I'm a US citizen -- incidentally, the most aggressive border interaction to which I was ever subjected was when I was entering Canada about 14 months or so ago. I was with my brother -- two twentysomething guys crossing the border. They clearly thought we were carrying drugs, and searched the car in a manner that reflected that suspicion. Coming back into the states took all of 30 seconds.

11:21 PM  
Blogger jeadly said...

I found a FAQ on the CBP site about what gives them authority to question citizens.
They state their right to search and question persons very matter-of-factly, but something tells me it's not that cut and dry.
From perusing the document they cite:
It seems that Immigration officials can ask all the questions they want but must have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to detain you.
Customs officials can look through your stuff but there is no mention of their right to question you.
There is this particular nugget at the top of page six:
"But an officer cannot construe a person’s refusal to be interviewed as sufficient cause to suspect wrongdoing."
Odd how that's not mentioned on their FAQ page.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

x2 to taiyyaba

had you been any other race or a woman this would not have gone over as well. one hand, congratulations on exercising what little rights you have; on the other hand I wouldn't pat yourself too hard on the back. The way laws are changing, you won't have this chance again.

12:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I travel to North Korea annually. My travel habits during the Cold War were to the Soviet bloc and the USSR. I used to have problems on occasion but not like this. The customs people usually don't believe me and one even thought it was fascinating. I sometimes think it depends on the mood of the customs folks. I go to China frequently and wonder what awaits me in the future.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Vijay said...

Fantastic Paul! Your post reminds me of my own stand against answering questions from the Census Bureau

10:07 AM  
Blogger Brad Farless said...

I admire your ability to put it to 'the man' in this particular case. It seems like CBP is getting too full of themselves. I'm particularly annoyed by something I read recently which says they can search your laptop and phone all they want, without a warrant. Right to privacy anyone? Right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure? Does that ring a bell?

Anyway, I'm beginning to worry with as much crap as I'm reading about CBP recently. I left the US in 2008 and haven't been back once since then, but have an upcoming trip. I've been to interesting places like Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. I wonder how much grilling I'm going to get when I get back?

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see, you refused to answer a question about whether you had traveled for business or pleasure but readily complied with the search and readily produced as many forms of ID as requested which feels far closer to a totalirian state than the questions that were asked. Your priorities are whacked.

6:20 PM  
Blogger K-Rod said...

The proper answer to the first question:


Sir, what kind of business?


11:59 PM  
Blogger Miq-Tak said...

Damn straight. We maintain our rights only by insisting on them. The onus is on the official, not me.

2:21 AM  
Anonymous Erin said...

Typical white male privilege. Go get a REAL problem. Like being black. You wouldn't be picking fights and then getting all huffy over nothing. I guarantee you people in the inner city would LOVE to be 'harassed' like this.

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why be a jerk? Just answer the questions instead of wasting everybody's time.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow man, you're just an asshole. You deserve the wait.

2:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seconding the comment on how much easier it is as a US citizen to get into Europe than to get back into the US (my passport wasn't even stamped last time I went into France, AND after French security there was a secondary US security AT THE FRENCH AIRPORT in order to have the privilege of getting back into the States).

I've traveled hundreds of thousands of air miles in the past five years, all over the world. Do our security tactics make me feel safer? No, they make me feel hassled, inconvenienced, and ashamed that anyone coming to visit my country has to see this as their first view of America.

2:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

or you could just not be a douche and simply answer the questions.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Paulrus said...

Good that your time has zero value. Most people would just answer these basic questions because they value their time and have better things to do in their lives that jerk around customs officers who deal with asshats like you every day.

Seriously, do you have so much free time that you can spend it this way? How about doing something actually productive with your life instead of just bogging down the system with your buffoonery?

You are a total moron. Hopefully next time they'll keep you sitting in a chair for a few days.

Seriously - there are much better ways to deal with things like this than hassling low-paid government employees.

2:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the other anonymous, to a degree. There's nothing unjustifiable that I see in these innocuous questions that have been asked for the 30 years I've traveled internationally, since they are probably the initial step in different questions depending on whether business or pleasure related to customs. Nothing inappropriate there. And nothing inappropriate in keeping records of travels, as the passport process has done for a long time as well.

My big problem is that you create a hassle not only for yourself but for whoever is behind you in line. Get over yourself and your paranoia.

3:10 AM  
Blogger John Hoeffleur said...

Good on ya!

3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This will not work at a land crossing if you have your own car. The customs agents there will take apart your car and walk away "looking for smuggled goods". It is my understanding that they don't have to put it back together. The SF agents (if I understand correctly) could have completely unpacked this guy's bags and left the contents on the table and walk away.

as a frequent land crosser from Canada into the U.S., I have heard many stories such as this, and therefore play as nice as I possibly can.

It is all about power.

3:11 AM  
Anonymous PT said...

There's nothing particularly impressive about this. You wasted people's time while saving yourself from giving information that wouldn't impact you either way.

I get the premise, but pick your battles.

3:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stay classy...

3:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crap like this is the reason it takes forever and is a hassle to travel nowadays. Heres a life lesson for you, dont be a douche, it effects others. Douche.

3:29 AM  
Blogger Richard Fletcher said...

Returning to the UK (as a UK subject) I have never been asked a question by Passport officials. Are US Citizens routinely asked such questions on re-entry?

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like an irritating baby.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Wowza said...

You're sort of seriously a dick. These people were just doing their jobs, trying to make a day to day with the weight of being the ones who're tasked with deterring harm on their shoulders. Your little debacle was completely unnecessary and selfish. Those "thugs" were people too, what gives you the right to judge them?

3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sir, what kind of business?



"Bees Wax, Not Yours Inc.

3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job, let me know how it feels to be on the no fly list.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

It must be SFO. I came through LAX customs a week ago, and the guy who checked my passport didn't say two words to me. I had to go for a bag check (through the x-ray machines) since I brought some food back with me, but the guy that was there was extremely polite, jolly, and just waved me through when I said I only had chocolates and candy that was wrapped up (which was true). Last customs person I interacted with was the person standing at the exit that takes your declaration form. He said "Thank you" and waved me through barely glancing at my form.

Maybe it was because it was 9:30am, or maybe I just hit a bunch of nice people. :P But not all entries into the US are like this. (TSA on the other hand... I feel more at risk, i.e. they're going to detain me for some "random check", than going through CBP's hands.)

3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While you might have been within your rights, I don't see what point you proved to anyone that had encounters with. If you were truly committed to making a change, go through the proper legal channels.

But then, you would have to involve only your time and effort and it looks like your real intention was to prove your point at the expense of people just doing their job.

Some people just like to point out a problem and create another problem just to prove their point, versus actually trying to make things better.

3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, so you're the fucktard holding up the damn customs line and making the rest of us late? Just say "business" like the rest of us and be done with it. Jesus. Fight something worth fighting for a change, douchebag.

3:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude you are my hero. I've crossed the US-Mexico border for years. Thanks to my last name being middle eastern every time I cross the border the Smurfs treat me like a criminal. I was born in the US and the idiot custom agent is asking me if I'm Taliban. (true story) The Smurf was saying this with a huge middle eastern accent. It was almost funny.

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to Wowza,
Be respectful at all times, but know what you actually must legally do. Otherwise we all will keep bending over till we fall over.

3:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely done! I'm saddened by the animosity of some of your commenters. As our country speeds towards a fully fear-driven existence I think it's a bit troubling that people will throw all their rights out the window to get through an immigration line faster. "Do as your told and don't ask questions" may work great in some places but I certainly don't want to live in a world like that!

3:53 AM  
Anonymous Dilapidus said...

Some of the responders here are amazing. "That's what you get for not complying" and "Why not just answer, the data is innocuous"

I may be unique here, but I think the whole point is that our government is subject to a very strict set of rules for a very good reason. We have a duty as citizens, a solemn obligation to reject attempts by our employees and officials to contravene those rules.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I got from your experience is that you are a troll.

3:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i applaud your stance and admire your guts.

i am saddened by the number of people who think declining to answer questions we are not obliged to answer constitutes "being a dick."

what are you going to say down the line? that's ok, i wasn't using my civil liberties anyway?

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We raise hell against the good guys and let the bads go on "technicalities."
WHY hassle the U.S. Customs over such a stupid small thing. You taught no-one anything. Bet you think ACLU is good and Religion is bad.
If you are going to freak out on people with "attitudes" ... better go live in a cave. In fact, PLEASE DO SO.
Larry Beavers

4:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note that there are other reasons for the questions, and were intial questions that may be pertinent to serious issues you may simply not be aware of. For instance, depending on where you were in China, there may be concern for insect exposure or other non-indinginous contamination that IS a worry. There may be other biologics such as infection concerns that aren't hitting the media, but IS distributed in governmental bulletins.

Basically any information you could have given was far from an invasion of privacy, and I bet the guy on the plane next to you asked similar questions and got answers without the attitude you gave our law enforcement.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Please don't spend your money in such a vile place as china.

4:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of his troubles came about because he performed an act that was not accounted for in the training manual or their experience to date. Your story should be circulated to all of the customs and border patrol units.

4:04 AM  
Blogger Endif said...

Telling how most of the people whining about your ZOMG RUDE BEHAVIOR are posting anonymously. I wonder if they're all from the same IP address..

4:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just answer the stupid question and you'd walk right through. You brought this upon yourself and now you want to whine about it? What was the point? They still win and you're still a loser who thinks he's cool.

4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Canadian law student who was interrogated for quite a while coming back from Japan by way of the US. I pieced together that they thought I was a drug trafficker and only let me go when I finally told the guy ripping apart my bag that I'm a law student and showed him by student card. He seemed confused and realized that I obviously didn't match whatever the profile is. I have travelled all over the world and the United States is by far and away the worst place to travel through.

I've been to the US many times in the last year for conferences, work and travel. The abuse of foreign people is even worse than what you've experienced! They're not making any friends for the very reasonable people that I've known in the US. Border agents are a problem.

4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess when "Home Improvement" went off the air you had alot of time on your hands. Try this experiment: Go back to China, be a wiseguy to one of their customs officials, write about that experience if you ever make it back.

4:14 AM  
Blogger K-Rod said...

" "Nunya"


"Bees Wax, Not Yours Inc."


4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While each CBP point of entry gets the job done similarly, each of them have a different style. Ask any frequent traveller to the US.

Houston - Great. Professionals.
Miami - J*rks
Chicago - Ass**les
Long Beach - Funny

I believe Chicago and the US didn't get the Olympics on the basis of the hassle IOC members received.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So...what WERE you doing in China?

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

Very interesting post, I do however agree with a previous comment that it's not in anyone's best interest to be put on some kind of federal troublemaker list. Simply because you never know what tomorrow's world will be like.

4:17 AM  
Anonymous mepsipax said...

Beautifully done. I am trying to teach my son that not all questions must be answered and that just because someone with authority says jump that you don't have to. In short, his rights.
I don't even let the bag checkers look in my bag at the stores....if they make a stink, I don't shop there anymore.

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PROTIP: If you want to flame away at articles, summerfags and fellow trolls, then try to vary your insults. It's like the douchebag patrol just pulled up in the whaaabulance screaming whine-one-one...

4:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5. Don't be a jackass & answer the questions prick. These guys have to go through a lot of good guys in order to find some bad ones. Give them a break.

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a different perspective. The Customs Officials are trained to spot "nervous" and "suspicious" behavior. To do this they ask certain questions. The answers to the questions don't matter. What matters is how the passenger/citizen answers them. Fidget, sweat, erratic breathing, failure to make eye contact..etc. will get you to a more thorough/lengthy "Secondary" than you experienced. I salute your exercising your right to remain silent, but the reality is that from the Custom's perspective you were just being a prick and wasting their time. They did their job, you did yours (??).

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are better ways to stand up for your privacy then being a douche.
You could have just said "business" and it would have been fine.
Why waste everyone’s time, and your own, by being antagonistic?

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read the rest of your blog, but frankly the tone of it makes you come across with all the integrity of a middle schooler giving his teacher the finger. The people who work at the customs and immigration stations at the airports of this country are just ordinary people who have a job. They have superiors who tell them what to do. Did you get some kind of childish kick for "sticking it to the man?" You put all this childish behavior in the guise of standing up for civil liberties but all you really did was make an already difficult and tedious day for a ordinary Joe more difficult. Hooray for you. Does that make you feel good? If you actually wanted to make a difference instead of being a jerk you could have written to your congressman, you could have spoken to an official at immigration and customs. Next time try a more constructive and adult approach to your complain...if you really have one.

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Did you really teach these "thugs" any lesson at all, or did you just reinforce their behavior (subject doesn't answer questions -> detain and question)?

Is your life measurably better due to your actions?

What did you actually accomplish, other than wasting your time and theirs?

4:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May be this would be to much of a problem, but if you feel like it you should take this to the court.

4:39 AM  
Blogger C. Martin said...

Scary propensity for people to just throw their hands up and declare it not worth the hassle to insist on the freedoms the law explicitly tells them they have. It's okay to allow authority figures to ignore your rights so long as it doesn't inconvenience you? What consequences do you imagine that attitude might incur in the future? If you train authorities to expect you to submit to their power-tripping, they'll only push harder and harder, until you have no freedoms at all.

4:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

prob doesn't like to show his receipt at walmart either

4:42 AM  
Blogger douggold said...

I have to say that I think you are an ass. Are you legally required to answer questions to get back into your country? No. Are they wrong to ask you questions about your travels abroad? No. There's a big difference between what you are required to do, and what a good citizen is willing to do to assist the responsibilities these agents have in trying to keep an eye out for illegal activities being performed by international travelers. So, bravo, you proved you can stand above the power-mad bullies of the customs agents who dared to ask you why you made your trip. Good blog entry, douche.

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe how many clueless sheep have made comments. Nice work, Paul. At least somebody has the guts to stand up for American rights.

4:43 AM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

I am also surprised by the hostile comments on this blog. All he did was assert his rights as a citizen of the US, and writing a blog entry about the experience he had doing so. He wasn't "being a jerk" or whining.

I agree that if we do not stand up for our civil rights we will eventually lose them. Even if it inconveniences some other travelers in line behind you. I also suspect that if the Customs officials had given him a good reason for the questions, he would have answered them.

"Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."-Benjamin Franklin

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And your point being, exactly, what? A privileged white male citizen of the United States stands up and makes a bold, course-of-history changing point about - not answering questions??!? BFD - no appreciation here. Why don't you pick a battle that might actually make life better for someone else?

4:44 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

Thank you for the story, your take-away analysis at the end, and for standing up for your rights like this.

My only devils-advocate note: apparently some (if not most or all) agents are trained to ask routine questions, such as the ones you refused to answer, more to study the physical (re)actions of the person questioned in order to determine if they SHOULD be suspicious of this person for some other reason. If you were to have stammered "Busin- I mean personal. I mean, uh... what was the question again?" while sweating in the air conditioning rather than a straight response of "sightseeing" or "vacation" then maybe they would have called for a secondary screening, just to be safe. In effect, it's a sort of like a highly-subjective behavioral x-ray.

Still doesn't make it legal or right, and I applaud those who hold the line that they will tolerate, even if it differs slightly from mine.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Jarrod said...

So, if I get this straight from all of the people calling him a "douche" or "asshole", his refusal to answer questions he was not required to answer, magically forced the security personnel to react in the way that they did? They have no responsibility for this situation or their own behavior because he apparently has mind control powers that made the CBP/TSA employees detain him? Wow, I never knew he was a Jedi.

4:52 AM  
Blogger jason swan said...

wow lots of astroturfers here on the side of CBP.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

I applaud your effort in asserting your rights. Old Ben Franklin hit the nail on the head when he said "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty." If we allow people to whom we have given a modicum of authority to abuse that authority, then we are allowing them to erode the precious rights that we all are entitled to.

4:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of these "anonymous" posters are cowards. They are afraid to exercise their rights, or worse yet they are authoritarians. Rights are useless if you can't exercise them. As for the "you have too much time on your hands argument," it is also none of their business what you do with your time if it isn't frittered away breaking the law. Exercising your rights is never a waste of time, anymore than eating a piece of pizza is a waste of time because somebody thinks you shouldn't eat pizza.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Ambit said...

It's so depressing to see people heap scorn on you for standing up for your rights.

Americans, apparently.

5:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OP was not the one holding up the line here; the guys behind the desk were. They were not 'just doing their jobs'; it is not their job to demand answers to questions that the citizen is not legally bound to answer.

Lines will move much faster once the authorities drop bs routines like this.

5:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never felt less welcomed by any country than when I return to the US (am a US citizen..) Why does it have to be this way?

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you wanted to act like a jerk just for the sake of being a jerk?

Or would this give you something to brag about to your friends?

You are not proving anything other than you are a major league douche.

5:12 AM  
Blogger don_mecca said...

Keep fighting the good fight! In other words, keep up the good work.
Thanks for sticking up for our rights.

5:23 AM  
Blogger Taradino C. said...

@Jarrod: No one was forced to do anything. He acted in a legal-yet-douchey manner, and the customs agents responded in a legal-yet-douchey manner.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why answer the first question with "None of your business" ?

There are much politer replies you could have used. Seems like you were looking to set people off so you'd have something to blog about.

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Canadian and it's been my experience travelling that it's been returning to my own country that I have been treated the worst. I had a friend who had dual citizenship that traveled a lot to the States (he lived in Canada) and he found that when he went to the States and said he was a Canadian he didn't get hassled and vice versa.

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, "did you pack those bags yourself?" is a legitimate routine question, with a predefined procedure following its answer.

Usually if you answer "yes" you're ushered through, and if you answer "no" they have a reason to believe that someone else (who may not, you know, be a law-abiding US citizen) tampered with the bags, suposedly for less than legal purposes. Answering one or the other, at any stage, is just a formality.

If you refuse to answer you are usually treated as if you answered "no", and all of your luggage is checked manually. So you're basically not "hassled" if you just say that yes, you packed yourself. It's all in the protocol, and is really not personal. An AFAIK nobody will deny you entrance to any state because you answer, or because you don't. You just chose not to save yourself the hassle by saying "yes". Oh well.

All of the other things you were asked are really none of their business, though.

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To those here asking about experiences as a U.S. citizen who was married to an English man for many years. Every time I entered the UK, the officials were incredibly rude to me and I'd have to explain that I am married to an English man and visting our family. After we separated and he moved back to the UK, I went to visit him there (we remained friends), using an online plane ticket. So I had only printed out my flight there, not my return flight 3 days later. The Heathrow passport official had a real problem with the fact that I couldn't "prove" i'd be leaving again and grilled me about what my relationship to my not-yet ex-husband was, why I was visiting him, what if we reconciled and I decided to stay, how could he be sure I would be leaving in 3 days, etc. He actually ended up asking for my ex's phone number and called him saying "I have a woman here claiming to be your ex-wife and I need to know that she indeed will be leaving in the three days she says she will". I kid you not! I wrote a letter of complaint to Heathrow and got an apology, but I doubt they are any friendlier to Americans now. Somebody's still pissed about the Boston tea party, I guess.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

You also might be interested to know that you don't necessarily have to have a passport. I reentered the US at Kennedy from Thailand on my Irish passport in 2005 (I declined to get another US passport while Bush was president) and they held me for 3 hours, and then a judge told me that he knew I was a US citizen because my Irish passport said I was born in NYC.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Gyrofrog said...

While I see the point of the anonymous comments, I would ask readers to consider this statement: "These people were just doing their jobs..." Is that really an excuse? Were they forced into the job? I don't mean to reach the Godwin point but, historically, how has that worked out? "Well, I was just following orders."

6:07 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

So, uh...why *were* you in China? :)

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Law enforcement's job is to be patient in the face of difficult situations. Most of them are trained to be patient. They are trained to uphold the Constitution. They are given an oath to uphold the Constitution, not harass us for exercising our rights under the Constitution. The First Amendment is part of the Constitution. Law enforcement officers need to follow their training. If they don't follow it, then they should be disciplined appropriately.

6:18 AM  
Blogger K-Rod said...

Tim, was it your hate toward Dubya or Sec Powell or Sec Rice? That 3 hours would have paid for the passport and then some.

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

It does sound like it was all about power. Yours, versus people that want to make you do things. Guy burning the Korans = you. Guy walking around and around inside the Burger King carrying a handgun on his hip = you. Point at any antisocial jerk you see.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People that are all bent out of shape about this guy exercising his rights are sort of missing the point. I do recognize that being a overt muslim traveler in this scenario would be an ENTIRELY different event (or really most non-caucasian dispositions) but theres something to be said for sticking up for "what little rights" we have. The last 10 years have seen a lot of personal liberties being chiseled away. If you want to argue "convenience", "douche-baggery", or "being a dick" as a defense for allowing the rights of citizenship to be methodically and systematically scaled back, then you're part of the problem.

6:25 AM  
Blogger n/a said...

As a U.K.citizen entering the U.K. i have been interrogated as to how long i had been out of the country,where had i been,who had i "met up with",what did i buy while abroad and spoken to very rudely when i gave minimal answers.They seemed to be trying to discourage travel!

6:37 AM  
Blogger NIP said...

Congratulations on your moral victory over oppression. All you've actually done is trivialize the experience of people who really have been been detained, tortured, disappeared or executed by far more corrupt and totalitarian governments than ours.

Being deliberately annoying to the customs guy is about as classy as being rude to the waiter.

Technically of course, you have every right to be as much of a jerk as you want, as long as you're not breaking some law. And, technically, the people "just doing their jobs" have to put up with you because that IS their job.

And technically, they're not supposed to retaliate "in kind". Like spitting in your food, or making sure you miss your connecting flight.

Maybe after you grow up, you'll learn to choose your battles.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't be surprised when "They" "find" something illegal in your bags next time. Welcome the the U.S.A.!

6:46 AM  
Anonymous KatzMeowz said...

Thank You! I am so tired of seeing US citizens blindly complying with anyone who claims authority to do so. I've come to realize it is imperative that I learn and understand my rights and then have the fortitude to stand my ground when others attempt to usurp them.

Unfortunately, that means being willing to endure the inevitable consequences which could range from mere inconvenience to my time to the very real possibility of being physically attacked and injured. But it is the realization that asserting rights can bring such negative consequences that motivates me to find the courage to make a stand for my rights as a US citizen.

I applaud your courage and appreciate that when you stand up for your own rights that it is also a stand for the rights of all of us. I am sure it will inspire more people to find the courage for similar actions.

7:00 AM  
OpenID logovo said...

It made me glad to read this. Good for you and us.

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like a huge jerk with too much self-importance.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done for asserting what rights you have. As others have said, non US citizens don't have those rights. I guess we can show our opposition by refusing to travel and spend our money in the US.

Frankly, thanks to this pathetic 'security theater' business, air travel is such a royal PITA anywhere these days that I try to do as little of it as possible.

I had hoped that things might change after Obama was elected but I guess he's just a 'friendly' face fronting the same old rubbish.

As for the multiple other anonymous comments with a suspiciously similar tone along the lines of 'suck it down', I think your Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves if they knew the compliant sheep that large portions of US citizenry have become in the modern age. To them: Read the US constitution - the people who wrote it KNEW what they were talking about.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're just being an asshole. EVERY country has customs declarations and the purpose of them is to trip up people who ARE impersonating people trying to get into this country. You had a right not to answer them but the air of self importance you have is pathetic.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose the people calling you a jerk, etc. would have said the same to Rosa Parks. After all, why make a fuss? Why mess up everyone's day? Why cause the bus driver so much hassle? She should have moved for that white person, because niggers need to know their place, right?

Thankfully, she didn't roll over and be told she was less than anyone else. She defended her right to be respected as a person and became more than just a single, brave woman, she became the kind of hero the ass-kissing brown shirts can never aspire to. They seethe at others courage, yelling insults like the cowards they are.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Prove that exercising one's rights is merely being "an asshole." At any rate, in America, we have the right to be "assholes." The police have *no* right to break the law because "he is an asshole." There is no "being an asshole is a misdemeanor."

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am a law-abiding citizen, and, as such, I am the master, and the federal cops are my servants. They would do well to remember that."

That should be engraved into a bronze plaque and bolted to the wall of every government facility.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I salute you for sticking to your guns, I can't help wondering how this story would end if they'd decided to plant something on you our your luggage in retaliation.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did this post get linked on a Pokemon forum or what? I've never seen so many scared middle-school boys commenting on a blog like this.

Good work for taking on the power trip theater crowd. I will consider doing so myself next time I have a bit of free time.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Job! As Ben Franklin said Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

to those who have called him names, I know you were taught better than that!

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious: Is this a legally actionable circumstance? That is, have you looked into whether there is a law or statute that the airport 'tards could be sued under? If so, why not pursue such a lawsuit? I'm sure some non-profit like ACLU would pay for your defense team...

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Bergman said...

There's a useful bit of the U.S. Code that seems to govern a lot of official interaction. It's the bit of law that the bland-sounding "civil rights violation" charge falls under. Specifically, it's Title 18, Chapter 13 Sections 241 and 242. 242 criminalizes use of official authority, under color of law, to deprive someone of their civil, constitutional or statutory rights.

A detention for exercising rights, where such exercise does not justify a detention, would certainly qualify. Simply ordering someone into detention is worth a year in federal prison. If force is used, it's ten years. If deaths occur, sexual abuse occurs, or it's done to children, it's an actual death penalty or life imprisonment offense. Section 241 is conspiracy to commit a violation of 242, and all penalties are one step more severe (simple order brings ten years in prison, etc).

I am uncertain of the validity of citizen's arrest for federal laws being broken, but it presents a fascinating thought: If abuse of authority to deprive someone of rights is a misdemeanor, and more than one person backing up the first person is a felony, and you can't hold a position like CBP or TSA screener if you're a felon...

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would of loved to see some secretly put something illegal into your bag during flight without your knowledge and then after you played your little game they ended up searching your bag after first clearing your bag.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Camilla said...

Superb! I was physically roughed up and hand-cuffed for purportedly refusing to answer a state highway patrolman when he pulled me over to investigate what he thought was an expired registration on my car. (The registration had in fact been paid as he would have discovered if he had checked his computer; I had merely stupidly failed to apply the tags). I wasn't refusing to answer his questions, only demanding that he speak to me in a civil tone of voice. I have no traffic violations, wasn't driving carelessly, etc. but he shone a bright light full in my face and spoke to me in the rudest sort of way. The situation turned quite ugly as soon as I asked him to speak civilly, him yanking my hair, pushing me nose down against my car, handcuffing me roughly and shoving me into the backseat of the cop car. He told his superior who arrived with three other patrol cars that I had refused to cooperate. I filed a complaint within hours and felt frustrated by the lack of response from CHP...UNTIL a few months later the same patrolman roughed up another man who took him to court. He found my complaint in the officer's file and asked me to testify. The court found the patrolman at fault in that suit, in large part because of my corroborating testimony about his brutality and hot temper.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Tizroc said...

I am indebted to you for your service to this country. It does me proud to see another person who exorcises their rights. It is so worth the extra few minutes to remind the Civil Servant that they have lost sight of their job, obligation and duty.

They have a tough job and I respect them for a sometimes necessary and many times thankless job. None the less they are there to Protect and Serve, and through the constitution of most states are the employees of the American people.

Thank you, thank you, thank you... It warms my heart to know I am not the only one out there respectfully but diligently enforcing my rights as an American citizen while they last.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome dude, such a rebel!!! what a douche. put this much effort into a chick and you might lose your virginity.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand the folks who are saying this man is a "douche" or an "asshole" for asserting his rights as an American citizen. Our civil rights are being narrowed every day, and we've traveled a long way from what the Framers of our Constitution had in mind when they crafted the document. If you all are happy to assist this country in its seemingly inevitable slide towards becoming a totalitarian state, in order to avoid inconveniencing others or looking like a "douche" or an "asshole," then you're welcome to what this country becomes.

8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! I appreciate your views about privacy. It's important that there are people like you to say, "Hey! WTF people?!" I'm in another boat entirely. Travel, especially air travel, is a test in patience for everyone involved. When I travel, I play it like a game - the nicer and more cooperative I am, the better I am treated. It's the ideology that you can get more with sugar than with salt. It's true for me. And what sugar I give is paid back to me exponentially with free first class upgrades, passes to the executive clubs, help putting my shoes back on in security, great photo ops with the TSA, airline and customs folks. I even got a cool tour of a cockpit before we left the gate on my last trip simply because I was nice and friendly to the pilot who seemed like he was having a bad day. In the end, it makes my travel completely stress-free and I enjoy myself immensely.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that if you have a connecting flight or something or are otherwise in a hurry, you'd probably be pigeonholed into doing what you aren't legally obligated to do, which is a problem...

9:15 AM  
Blogger Dean May said...

If only 25% of the people entering had the courage to do this the practice would have to be discontinued, as they would not have the personnel to continue their harassment.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Craig A. Glesner said...


Rock on for you.

Also, I am really with you. I had to pay USD 500 because the cops profiled me and my girlfriend as drug runners. How do I know? I read their books, hell I own their books. In fact I had just read the section of "Tactics for Criminal Patrol" (if I remember the title correctly, but it is packed so I am trusting memory which is the third book of the Street Survival text books) which laid out how to profile drug runners. Thing is she was just didn't clean the car out much and I had just completed 16 hours of OT.

I think my favorite part was the ADA asking me if I thought it was alright to swear at the police. To which I responded "Fuck yeah, they work for me. And they were sloppy." He seemed shocked too. (They were sloppy too, could have killed both of them had I actually been a bad guy. He put his back to me and was all up in the car, conducting an unlawful search too.)

So keep up the good fight! Long live the Republic.


9:21 AM  
Blogger mxx said...

regarding "2. They’re Keeping Records. A federal, computer-searchable file exists on my refusal to answer questions."
Thanks to FOIA you can request Gov't to provide you with all the records they have on you, so you can see what exactly is in your file.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may have the right "to remain silent" but they have the right to shake you down. Idiot. Just say "yes sir" , "no sir", "just traveling around on break". whatever. You wasted hours being pompous. Congrats!

9:38 AM  
Blogger (just) Wally said...

I am heartened that there are still US citizens who know that holding the government accountable for their actions (in our nation of laws) is our duty AS citizens. Thank you for sharing your experience.

I have a permanent disability (from my time in the Coast Guard) and have to wear a brace. It nets me "secondary" on the US side of things every single time I travel (inconus or out). If we don't hold these people accountable for "just doing their jobs" then we deserve everything we get.

"They were just doing their jobs" is one of the most insidious statements I have ever heard, and I learned about it in world history class (high school)...something about Germany and a war and Jews... So thank you for not being a sheeple.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just try doing the same routine to the immigrations officer in China if you do another trip there.

And for that matter, I wonder what the response would be for a returning Chinese national if he/she told the officer at Beijing airport "none of your business"?

9:50 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

I admire what you did because I felt many times the same but I did not want to submit myself to the hassle. My standard reply is: business and I go through hassle free. Once I said vacation and it caused all kind of hassle with baggage.
As for the people who say "just submit a'hole", I have to say you are "good Germans" who allowed Hitler to raise to power.
I used to travel monthly to China, I was never asked any questions, once when I arrived in China my visa was by accident invalid, I was politely directed to an open counter and within 10 minutes was issued a free one time entry visa without any hassle.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To everyone saying "you just wasted everyone's time" - If each and every one of us did this, and brought all border crossings to a complete standstill for just 24 hours, you can bet we'd see some changes but *fast*.

Kudos for taking a stand against these idiots. At the risk of a Godwin, y'know who *else* claimed they "just did their jobs"? That doesn't make it right, folks. If you accept what they give you, you *deserve* what you get.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Twiner said...

"I'm sorry, I take a political stance against being asked that question."


"I'd be happy to explain why I'm declining to answer your question. It's a matter of political protest against what I see to be an unjust practice."

Subtext: Polite

"None of your business."

Subtext: Rude

To those people, rude = defensive = something to hide. What was the point of what you did? To write about it on your blog later?

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shut the fu ck up you insufferable cu nt and shove the innocent "I'm just exercising my rights" garbage up your a s s. Not answering questions when you're singled out and pulled over on the street by a stupid cop is one thing but there is absolutely no reason not to answer these simple, procedural questions unless you're trying to cook up a whiny blog post about it (surprise!).

I have re-entered the United States many times - from Canada, no less; not even China - and I have answering these questions down to a science. They are asked for good reason, and if your answers are truthful and to the point you will be done in a few minutes. I really don't care if the federal government has a file on me somewhere wherein they check a box that says I was in Canada for business or to visit a friend. I really don't.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous reg said...

There are a lot of anonymous concern trolls on here. It is a variation on the old "if you have nothing to hide, why worry about mindless compliance?" Because it is MINDLESS COMPLIANCE in the face of kabuki and authoritarianism. He did you a favor.

10:14 AM  
Blogger EtherEagle said...

From the looks of your troll activity I would say someone doesn't care for your tactics. I say so fucking what. It's about time for us all to wake up to the fact that waiting in lines is a symptom of a much larger problem. But nothing to see, just keep the herd moving along. Herds do not need inalienable rights they just need to obey!

10:15 AM  
Anonymous rj74210 said...

I've traveled out of the country dozens and dozens of times; on my return, only once have I ever been treated pleasantly, by a courteous and smiling immigration officer; normally the rule for immigration/customs personnel seems to be that they should treat anyone who's been out of the country as a suspicious character, i.e. either a traitor or a criminal.

I am always unfailingly polite and cooperative, answer all questions and present all documents, but I can't help but feel that the tone of treatment by these public servants is quite inappropriate and undeserved, given that I am an American citizen returning to my home country, as is my right. It is easy to imagine that foreign tourists are treated badly, and the European press often speaks of Europeans who have been grievously mistreated by overzealous INS employees all too eager to exercise their power. I am surprised that so many foreign tourists still come to the US given the hurdles they have to cross and the ill treatment they receive at the border.

That INS should check my documents is appropriate. On the other hand, the additional questions that they ask are really none of their damn business. If I were a criminal, I could lie about where I've been and whom I've seen. So, how are their stupid questions going to contribute to protection of the borders or homeland security ? Are we not, after all, supposed to be deemed innocent til proven guilty? Or is guilt automatically bestowed on all those who have been so unpatriotic as to travel to a foreign country?

While the writer of the article may be quite correctly seen as a pain in the posterior, I must concede that it is people like him who, in the final analysis, are the guardians of our freedoms.

BTW, that one time I was treated nicely (at Newark), I told the agent how much I appreciated, for once, being treated well. She seemed very pleased to be told this, and all of the people lined up behind me smiled broadly. Now that's the way we should be welcomed back. It's sad that it's only happened to me once in over 60 returns to this country.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am of two minds here- YES, customs officers can be jerks and a mere one step up from Mall cops in their bullying officiousness. And yes, the extra questions, etc. are onerous in this post-911 world.
But they are still trying to protect us by asking questions so they can gauge people's responses and try to weed out those (citizen or not) with less than pure intentions. Your rights were not threatened, or infringed upon.
In fact, while you were distracting them to make a meaningless point, someone who really DID mean harm could have slipped through the cracks.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He asked if I had packed the bags myself. I said I declined to answer the question."

You deserved everything you got. YOU were the one who was rude ("None of your business."). If you act like a dickhead, you deserve to be treated like one.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, busting balls of some Average Joes trying to get through the day. What a patriot.

While they were distracted with your bullshit, two terrorists probably slipped into the country undetected.

They should have taken you to the back and water-boarded you.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really want to have fun with customs. Get them to embarrass themselves. In Canada I was asked if I was carrying protection. I said, "Why no. My husband has had a vasectomy." Embarrassed didn't even cover the reaction this poor guy had.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Fred X. Quimby said...

More power to you.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. My take is they're only half-interested in the verbal responses to their questions. I've always thought what they're really watching for are other 'tells' while you respond, such as nervousness, hesitation, or sweating.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Patrick Lessard said...

You are truly an asshole... all about power ? i was just about to say the same thing to you.

All you proved is that at the end of the day, they treated you , the prick who just made a scene to feel big, correctly... you don't like how the airport works and take it out on the 9 to 5 person... what a douche

11:28 AM  
Blogger William said...

I have to agree with the anonymous posters on this one: you're an ass. Don't be an ass, be cool like maybe, just maybe, these people are working stiffs just like the rest of the working population, possibly even thanking their lucky stars they are part of the working population, and treat them with some common decency. I'm not saying necessarily bow to their every whim, I'm just saying don't be an ass, and see where that gets you.

Of course, character flaws are hard to overcome, and the vast majority of asses are that way because of character flaws.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are the Anonymous commenters such a bunch of dingleberries? Sheesh!

11:40 AM  
Blogger Luggagemonkeys said...

It's pretty funny how everyone whose comment reads, "Quit acting like a child and blindly submit to authority! It's the easy thing to do!" decided to sign their name, "Anonymous."

11:40 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Person said...

Oh, this is one of the most entertaining (funny) posts I've read in a long time. Thanks...

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SO basically you proved that the officers acted reasonably. If they where actually thugs they would have beaten you to a pulp and left you to rot in solitary for a while. The officers on duty have as little control of what they are supposed to do as you. It's like arguing with a Warrior class termite about the intentions of the queen. All you really did was annoy some guys that probably make less than you and have less education than you. Well done

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for standing up. We're not all as brave as you but we appreciate your courage and what you are doing for all of us.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Serr8d said...

Good for you!

There's no need for these uniformed servants to attempt to wield absolute government authority; they are given limited powers and only usurp them if we go along with their overreaches and allow them to get away with their 'minor' misuses of power. We have to continually remind some of these that the only difference between them and Hitler's SS troops is our refusal to allow them to act the way they obviously want to.

Sheeple become sheeple because they give in to authority too easily.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous collywobbles said...

Er ... so, what were you doing in China?

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You self important twat. are you seriously refusing to answer honestly about your whereabouts? although at times unreasonable, you're being an unnecessarily large douchebag about the whole affair. answer some questions, get where you're going ontime, have a great day. don't blow it outta proportion for your readership...

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's the big deal? Just answer the damn questions and stop holding up the line, you self-important wanker.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:01 PM  
Blogger Yan Min said...

I love the people who are like "this dude's an asshole for asserting his rights". Glad that you really stand up for the rights as Americans guys... those rights that are slowly eroding away as we speak. The TSA/Immigration/etc only need to ascertain that this guy isn't packing anything illegal, and that he has legal standing in the US. If he refuses to answer, then they just go ahead and do a search. If the search comes up clean (like it did here) then he should be allowed to go on his merry way. Simple on both sides. The questions are there simply to inconvenience you and make you feel like they are in charge. Had the officers been doing as they were trained, everything would have been far more smooth. Instead they felt as if he was taking away some of their power that didn't exist and thus decided to get all huffy about it. This is what happens when you give the lowest denominator power... they abuse it.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being a middle class white male must be really, REALLY dull.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow you have a lot of guts. Thanks for standing up for your civil rights. I'm encouraged by your story. IMHO people in positions of authority (at times) overstep their boundaries and watch out for each other to the detriment of the society they serve.

2:35 PM  
Blogger aelfwyne said...

Went through a similar but even more surprising situation myself. I visited Big Bend National Park, which just happens to be located on the US-Mexico border. This was in 2004. On my way BACK north out of the park, I was stopped at a BORDER CHECKPOINT. Now, I had NEVER left the USA, that is, I had NOT ENTERED MEXICO in any way shape or form. Yet, I was stopped, asked questions about my nationality, had my license taken from me for about 30 minutes while my car was searched. They claimed that since it was a border checkpoint, I was required to answer all questions AND submit to a search.

To this day I wish I'd had the guts to refuse, but the middle of the desert near the Mexican border is not a place, apparently, to assert your rights as a US Citizen.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the customs officers are doing is not gathering information but gaging how you answer. They have to interact with you somehow to get a feel of whether or not you warrant greater scrutiny. When you respond in a manner that is out of the ordinary, their response will be to escalate the inspection. You can keep answering the way you did, just know it'll get you a thorough inspection of all your things.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Returning to the UK (as a UK subject) I have never been asked a question by Passport officials. Are US Citizens routinely asked such questions on re-entry?

Yes. The US and Canada are the only places I ever get asked any questions at all.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a US citizen who has been living in France for 14 years.

Every time I go "home", I get a barrage of what I see as inappropriate questions.


"Do you work in France?"
"Are you coming back to stay in the US?"
"How long are you staying in the US?"
"Does your family live here?"

among others.

I have often wondered why they ask these questions. My ex-husband was also systematically detained upon entry to the US despite not having a green card application filed, and possessing a round-trip ticket.

I teach ESL in France to businesspeople and they often ask me how to handle immigration and customs officials. Unfortunately I have to tell them that they could be treated aggressively (TSA), they could be asked some irrevelant questions that, if they wish to be on their way speedily, they should answer, and above all, to be as submissive as possible to anyone who seems to have a position of power.

Then I tell them that Americans would never submit to the kind of invasive measures imposed upon foreigners-- pre-travel online registration (ESTA), biometric passports, etc.

How sad is that. Land of the free, my Aunt Fanny.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are my new hero. After being on a plane for 10 hours its never fun to be interrogated by your own country's "friendly" agents. They are often unsmiling, smug automatons who are unnecessarily strict and having travelled through a number of different US airports, San Francisco is the worst. Good job standing up to them!

4:06 PM  
Blogger De said...

This is exact why I and several friends don't go to America. The not friendly way at the border and the special passport. This is common known in Europa and that is why America is losing a lot of recreational income.

So we go to Asia it is so much more friendly and much cheaper. America is a sinking ship. And it is getting more and more isolated from the rest of the world.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I find it interesting the number of people saying "Wow, what an asshat - holding up the queue".

It's not him holding up the queue; it's the officials asking all these questions. Just imagine how much shorter the queue would be if they didn't insist on nosing into everybody's business...

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the others here who think that the only thing that Paul was really wanting to do was to boost his hits on his blog by creating an incident by refusing to answer a simple question by a US Customs Agent. This is the standard, liberal / left-wing tactic to create drama in their own vapid lives; they *thrive* on drama and attention.

How invasive is a simple question like "What was the purpose of your trip to (insert nation of choice)"? Did you actually have something to hide in relation to your trip to China, Paul? If you didn't, then why be an ass-hat? Why generate your own drama? Two words: PAGE HITS.

Living close to the U.S. / Canadian border, we regularly travel across that border and have never been detained for any reason whatsoever. Why? Because I was honest, truthful and cooperative with both Customs Canada and U.S. Customs, and never acted like a smug, know-it-all jerk like Paul did.

So, folks - stop feeding the monkey by refusing to reply to my post or Paul's. This was nothing more than a stunt to generate page-hits for Paul's blog.

--Captain Obvious

5:17 PM  
OpenID toroman said...

You are my hero!

5:45 PM  
Blogger Ant said...

Oh, nice work there buddy. Hey, do you realise that airports, airplanes, security, even catering and entertainment on the flights, are services that are a privilege, not a right to use?

Some of those services are private, some are run by the government. But as with driving on the roads, if you intend to use them, you agree to play by their rules.

These services SHOULD be allowed to refuse service if you don't follow their, I hope you're smart enough to agree, simple requests.

I noticed you only tried it on at the end of your trip, where they had to do something to get rid of you. If you had acted like a jerk at the start of your journey, you wouldn't have gotten past check-in.

If you're gonna take, you have to give. Otherwise, I hear that you can get rowboats for pretty cheap these days.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous China said...

I was just in China too! Have you read CHINA: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter? Really great photography book. Too bad your trip ended on a negative note, but hopefully the Chinese gave you a warmer welcome...

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Braadwijk said...

I'm a grad student who travels back in forth between Germany and the USA all the time. It is always easier for me to come back to Europe than to go home to the United States. My frustrations start right whenever I buy a ticket to Boston, where new rules demand I must provide a copy of my passport for customs before I even take the flight. I can only imagine how much money it wastes to keep track of what they already have on file. Then, I need a special exit visa for the United States. Then, when I land in Boston, I'm always hassled about why I have been to such an such a country, what "Deutschland" means on my residency visa, how much money I have, where I'm going, etc...

Land of free indeed. There's also a rather noticeable difference in the attitudes of CBP in Germany. They're friendly, polite, and one time crossing back the guard saw my residency visa and even said, "Welcome home."

7:43 PM  
Blogger Charles Frith said...

They don't hire people of sufficient calibre to understand that their ability to impose difficulty is largely incommensurate with their intelligence. You unambiguously illuminate this by revealing their ignorance of rudimentary law.

I love immigration at Beijing Airport. One stamp and we passengers are asked to rate the service via electronic buttons at the counter.

8:37 PM  
Blogger jchoyt said...

The questions are there not to harass or verify what they already know...they are there so the officers can judge your state from your reply. It's easy to lie on a form you pre-fill out. It's harder to lie face to face with a person the moment...has some authority over you. It's much easier to tell if someone is lying by their in-person response. Customs officers really just want to get through the next person without finding anything nasty or encountering obnoxious people. If you don't like the policy, take it up with management or your elected representative.

The entire "I'm a law abiding citizen and you have no right" spiel is incredibly egotistical and narrow-minded. You may be a law abiding citizen, but the person behind you may be smuggling things into the country you'd rather not have here. Don't take your frustrations out on the poor woman who's just doing her (rather underpaid) job trying to make sure the laws in this country...which NOT EVERYONE FOLLOWS..are followed. If you have nothing to hide, answer the silly, redundant questions, and move on with life.

8:38 PM  
Blogger jchoyt said...

Is there a reason you had to inflict your personal agenda on the poor CBP officer working Primary? It's like screaming at the sales clerk about store policy - it's not their fault and they are just doing their job. They don't get a trip harassing people - they are underpaid, underappreciated employees who are *trying* to do their jobs.

Secondly, your entire attitude is incredibly egotistical. Just because *you* are not breaking the law doesn't mean the guy behind him isn't trying to to - if you're a law abiding citizen, don't waste the time of people trying to catch are helping criminals that way. The reason questions are asked is that it's much harder to lie face to face than it is by writing stuff on paper. They can judge better whether you are trying to hide something by gauging not the content of your response - which the best ones probably don't even hear - but the timber in your voice, your body language, and other physical indicators that someone is lying to them. By doing what you did, you are helping criminals and as a fellow law abiding citizen, I respectfully request you stop.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this story is dubious. The Supreme Court has ruled that U.S. Customs agents have the right to ask basic questions of U.S. citizens and to search belongings.


8:52 PM  
Blogger Denis said...

As usual, someone sees the individual as the perpetrator rather than the victim. Many good men and women died in WWII to prove this wrong. In their memory.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're lucky you're white otherwise you'd still be in detention.

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are quite a douche bag. You may think you have advanced your cause but all you do is hinder the work of the people trying to protect the people of this country. Thank you.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if you had said "Personal reasons" (meaning "my reasons are personal and not your business", but she might take it as "not for business reasons", as it is an ambiguous reply) rather than the more confrontational "None of your business"--would you have breezed right through? Most people, even petty bureaucrats, respond better when they don't get the feeling you're being aggressive, confrontational, or defensive.

Of course, it was good to get your point proven...eventually. If your intention was to force the point, your method would be best.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, this happened to us entering US at San Diego on our boat at the Police Dock. They asked us a lot of questions, like our occupation, our previous occupations, etc. I thought it was not legal, but answered them. Also they asked where we would be in the next two days in case they needed to ask more questions. We told them, we did this so that we would not cause ourselves more problems, but I think this was not good.

In our case, we entered in the middle of the night and did not contact Immigration immediately because it was dark and we could not read their signs. (I did not point this out.) I predict that this will get worse.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Treat People like People said...

I think you should have erred on the side of being polite with your first answer.

"I'd rather not say" is a bit nicer than "None of your business". It doesn't matter what tone you used, the phrase "None of your business" is forever tainted to make you sound like a douche.

I don't doubt you'd still have been pressed further, but at least you don't look like a prick (like you do now).

Proudly exercise your rights, but remember there's no harm in being polite while you do so.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would happen, though, if they got so pissed at you they just kept you in holding. You would have no means of communicating to anyone, and they could keep you there as long as they want.

It's a good job that ass hat you used to have for president's interrogation camp is closed. You could have found yourself Guantanamo bound...

11:13 PM  
Blogger koenski said...

As a critical European I knew about the US paranoia , and what enormous effect all the new anti-terror laws do to a fatigued flyer. The silly thing is, if we´d all follow your behaviour, then I am sure those procedures would change radically, for the better..or worse.
U r my kinda guy though!.
(I posted about this on my blog today, if u don´t mind..),
Just a boy from the only land of the free-The Netherlands, Koenski from:

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfectly within your rights. Absolutely. Flawlessly. But...

You are really talking to the wrong guys. Those people are 9-5ers, they didn't make the rules or the system and intentionally frustrating them might make you feel good, but does nothing to change the system.

It's like browbeating the checkout person over the prices of the goods.

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

I noticed you mentioned "proof" of US citizenship being required to reenter the US.

What are your thoughts regarding those of us who have no criminal record, are US citizens of legal age with birth certificates, and are denied passports by the state department due to our political and/or religious beliefs?

I used to be able to enter the US without a passport, or with one, which was issued. Now I am supposedly required to have one, but one is not issued. This means I am a prisoner. I am not free to go.

11:54 PM  
Anonymous JG said...


12:05 AM  
Blogger Stephen Rees said...

Someone at the top of the comments remarked that people who are not US citizens have no such protection. The following two recent incidents show how far these people are prepared to go to demonstrate - what - that they have power? I don't know. I just wish sometimes that more US citizens would take action to get a restoration of the liberty that they say they hold dear but seem to have relinquished far too readily.

Both these incidents occurred in Vancouver - where passengers are "pre-cleared" to travel to the United States. So they were on Canadian soil and not within US territory.

Firstly, I had an apple - with a Washington sticker - in my carry on. And I declared it - even though such apples are specifically exempted from the prohibition on importing fruit - and told the customs officer I intended to eat it before I arrived in Newark NJ. It is a long flight from Vancouver and meals are no longer included in the fare. I was delayed - and given a long lecture on US customs regulations, and eventually I pointed out that he had essentially repeated what I had said. This seemed to further enrage the officer who was now frustrated that he himself had acknowledged that he had no cause to detain me. I was allowed to proceed - of course - but he made it clear that he did so unwillingly.

On a more recent occasion I was travelling with someone who was a New Zealand citizen normally resident in Australia. She had completed - with some difficulty - the necessary procedures on line that visitors from that part of the world must complete before leaving home.

She was detained - but the officer at the gate of the customs hall denied she was in their custody. She was "not in the system". That was because the officer she showed her passport to decided that she had to complete all the paperwork again, because she had used a computer in Australia when, as a New Zealand citizen, the system expected her to complete the formalities in her country of citizenship not where she was resident. The information, of course, was identical to what was on the printout she carried to show that she had applied, properly, prior to travelling to Canada.

She was over 70 - and did not have a cell phone with her - we had no way of knowing any of this until she finally emerged, and once again we had allowed plenty of time at the airport, so we caught our flight. But the attitude of the examining officer and the officer I spoke to try and find out where our companion was was the same. We were expected to simply accept whatever they wanted to do, without question.

Perhaps the US no longer wants visitors? I would have thought, given the state of the US economy, that welcoming visitors would be part of the process to boost foreign currency earnings - something the US now desperately needs.

12:21 AM  
Blogger lushootseed said...

Thank god there are still people like you who stand up despite being aware that you would be hassled.
I really wish I had the guts to do this while travelling with kids!!!

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think people are engaging in faulty analysis.

Yes, customs can ask you questions, by law.

And you have the right not to answer them. Since this is a constitutional right, that is why customs says that your refusal to answer questions cannot be construed as guilt.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your principles to stand up to your rights. Unfortunately not too many people do that now because of the inconvenience that authorities put you through for being a 'maverick'. That takes a lot of courage and steadfastness. Good on you! Ever since those 911 attacks, security has been ramped up so much, it's paranoid. I am never going to visit the US because of it. I really do not want to get full body x-rays at the cost of my health (however much they say it is safe), and have my privacy or body invaded.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not enough time to read ALL the comments, but I have two sides to consider. I must reiterate the comments made by several non-male, non-Caucasian commenters, and second what Erin said "Typical white male privilege. Go get a REAL problem. Like being black. You wouldn't be picking fights and then getting all huffy over nothing. I guarantee you people in the inner city would LOVE to be 'harassed' like this."

But also as important -- if you consistently secede your rights as a citizen, then why should they be maintained as "rights". I admire and uphold the actions carried out in this entry, nay, I encourage anyone with the privilege to do so to act similarly! Only by repeatedly demanding/demonstrating what one has a right to under the constitution and other legal Acts, can one truly maintain such freedoms.

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sure showed them. Meanwhile, I was halfway home after smiling and answering "vacation". You don't change laws by being a jackass to the people whose only responsibility is to enforce them. Top down, not bottom up. What passive aggressive stupidity.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

Wish more people would stand up for their rights - help us stop this long slow slide to a police state. Thank you.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please see the youtube video on the 5th amendment:

1:19 AM  
Blogger Bugg said...

This is a reply and declaration in regard to the author and this person:
Anonymous said...

Sounds like homeboy showed up at the airport looking for trouble and he found it. What got him hassled was acting like an ass and refusing to cooperate, and sounds like the guys recognized him from having done this before. I carry no water for the airport inspection guys who can be major idiots but I don't believe in provoking a confrontation with them either by refusing even moderate cooperation. If you act suspicious by refusing anything but the name rank and serial number thing, it is reasonable for them to consider you suspicious. You get no props from me.
11:03 PM

This is about Constitutional freedoms and rights that we have as citizens. The point of this matter is that the government isn't so much taking our rights and freedoms away as much as we are giving them away with that kind of attitude. We live in a society dependent on convenience. Because it's convenient to not be hassled, we give away our freedoms (in regard to this situation)?

In the name of security or whatever mask those put in power wanting more power will use to obtain/swindle more power and control. I could go on...but I'd better not.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author has demonstrated that the USA is a great country. He behaves like a complete tool with officers guarding the nation's entry points and is suffers only delay as a consequence.
I only visited the USA once and the immigration(?) officer extracted a great deal of information from me about my visit in a pleasant, friendly conversation.

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Police State sponsored by the financial elite and others within the new world order.

The US government always forgets two important things in line with the constitution:

Government is the servant and we are the master. (not vice versa)

We owe them nothing and they should have an expectation of nothing.

Regardless of what "law" congress passed that MAY give it an illusion of authority, any such authority is invalid per the constitution.

Answering such question to CBP could be construed in such a way to incriminate you. As such, you have a fifth amendment right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself.

Death to the new world order!!!!!!

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Myklsan said...

Thanks for the story. Your blog post just gave us a little window on the opinions of Americans. Some applaud your actions, some condemn and some just called you names, etcetera. This line of commentators are a possible indication of what our future in the U.S.A. will become. I'm hoping for the best but I fear the worst.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Girish Ramakrishnan said...

As another commenter pointed out, all this just demonstrates that USA is a great country. Fact is that in most other countries your behavior would mean that you would be locked up behind bars forever or faced such major harasement that you would not think of standing up to your rights again.

But the USA customs/police let you go and you don't actually have such a bad experience. So, you will continue to fight for your rights. All this makes a great nation.

And you are completely wrong about them abusing their power. Seriously, if they had abused their power you would have regretted it.

Take away : The police are good people.

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Snchpnz said...

Bravo sir!

1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently returned from New York to London passing through Heathrow. I'm a UK citizen. Immigration officer at Heathrow asked me the purpose of my trip. First time this has ever happened at Heathrow. I've been flying regularly to the US since 1973. You are right, it's about power. Nothing to do with security. Our government wants to drastically cut spending, first place they should look is airport security, lots of money can be saved there.

1:51 AM  
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