Social media at the border is thought police in our heads

Luggage may contain immediate threats, but future danger can be found in thoughts.

facebook, politicization of internet access, clickbait headlines, tech fails, thought police

Social Media Thought Police:

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This whole thing about travellers to the United States having to potentially reveal social media passwords to border guards is ridiculous for so many reasons.

There’s the obvious objection, which is that such information really isn’t anyone else’s business, but there are also several further layers of nonsense to it.

Firstly, if a border guard wants to see what you’re saying on Twitter on Instagram, they’re free to do so. Unless your account is locked down, that’s public information, readily available for all to see.

Most people generally don’t make threats against the United States in public places, where they can be documented and immortalized forever, so they should be okay. Maybe the guy who posts photos of burning American flags could be a problem, but again, nobody needs his password to make that determination.

So why do border officials want login info? Is it to see people’s direct or private messages? And what do they hope to find there? Is it secret terrorist plots, or said threats against the country?

That’s asinine. If someone were hatching a plot, would they be so inordinately stupid as to use Twitter DMs to do so? And would they be so doubly stupid as to not delete those messages before crossing the border?

It’s reminiscent of a hilarious Key and Peele sketch mocking the Transportation Security Administration for always being one step ahead of Al Qaeda’s plans:

Border officials supportive of gaining access to login information have been quoted as saying that examining people’s accounts, and their phones for that matter, isn’t much different from looking into their luggage, which they’ve been able to do for years. That argument is also asinine.

X-raying bags is a good way to assess whether a person poses an immediate threat based on what they have with them. X-raying phones and social media accounts, in essence, is very different.

In theory, it’s an attempt to discover whether the owner poses a future threat, as determined by what they say and think. But, given that malicious individuals generally aren’t fool enough to broadcast their intent where it can be easily found – either in public or what is supposedly private – there’s obviously something else going on.

The effort seems more like an attempt at installing a visual deterrent of sorts, to steer people away from thinking certain things for fear of being caught in the act of thinking them.

It’s like putting up fake security cameras – they won’t actually catch people doing anything wrong, but anyone who sees them will think twice about misbehaving.

In this way, the U.S. government seems to want border guards to act as thought police, with the ability to keep people out of the country who they deem as thinking the wrong way. The very threat of punishment or being turned away can be enough to suppress certain kinds of thought, which could be the ultimate goal.

That’s as antithetical to freedom as it gets, a dystopian effort straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s an incredibly concerning overreach that can’t be allowed to pass, because if it does, freedom is pretty much over. The inability for people to think freely is fascism achieved.

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2 Comments on Social media at the border is thought police in our heads

  1. Something to keep in mind is online services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Hotmail, Gmail and others come from US based companies. These services are often vague or outright do not disclose where that data you are willingly sending through those services is kept. With widely varying privacy laws between countries this is important to keep in mind. Going one step further, the information leaks that have occured strongly suggest the US government already has access to all that information long before you even reach the customs officer asking your your account details. The time to be asking the hard questions on privacy of those services is when you first sign up, or look at them today to see what rights you already gave up. Don’t try to make the US border changes into more than it is, a relatively small step on lots of privacy rights you gave up willingly long ago so you could more easily share those selfies.

    • I see what you’re saying and I agree for the most part, but I do think a purposeful move to broadcast to everyone entering the country that their innermost thoughts are essentially open for scrutiny is a strategy in and of itself. As you say, security officials already have the capacity to dig into whatever they want, essentially with no one knowing, so what this looks like to me is those same officials *telling* everyone that’s what they’re doing. The end goal, and result, is that people inevitably behave and ultimately think more conservatively when they *know* they’re being watched.

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