Dear America. Please fix your country so I can visit it again.

by Charles Miller on August 2, 2008

In the news this morning, US Department of Homeland Security regulations allow them to confiscate laptops at the border, or duplicate any data, without any suspicion of wrongdoing on the part of the laptop's owner.

It's a very timely move by the DHS. You never know when someone might invent a global, unregulated data network that could allow evildoers to entirely bypass such checkpoints, making them nothing more than a sham way for border police to rake through people's private data and copy their mp3 collections.

"But this would only happen to bad people!" you say. "If you haven't done anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about."

You see I really like America. I visit it a lot. And most of the times I've been there I've had no problems, beyond the invasiveness of having to provide my fingerprints and mugshot at the border, and the general assumption by everyone in immigration that their country is so wonderful that any visitor must be planning to dodge their visa and never go home.

(These border agents must never have visited Australia.)

Last time I was in the USA, though, things had changed. I learned how annoying air travel can be. Every single checkpoint I went through, I was dragged to the side for some kind of special search treatment. Finally, at one airport that had kerbside checkin (woohoo!) but that refused to let me use it (d'oh!), a helpful employee told me it was because I had a "common name", and this doomed me to special attention wherever I might travel.

Then I thought back to when I was going through customs to enter the country. The DHS agent there was very curious to know whether I'd been in the Caribbean lately. At the time I thought it was just because the cricket World Cup had recently been held there, and it wouldn't have been uncommon for travelling Aussies to have passed through that port. But in the light of subsequent TSA attention, I'm not so sure.

You see, there's this Carribean drug trafficker called... Charles Miller. Or at least there was. He's sufficiently "old news" not to have an entry on Wikipedia, and the most recent media mention I can find of him is from 1998. I have a sneaking suspicion that when they dumped the contents of the Wanted list onto the Suspected Terrorist list, his name (and thus mine) was there.

So next time I go to the States, I fully expect my laptop to be taken away and scoured for evidence that I am a fugitive drug trafficker from the West Indies who hasn't been heard from for twenty years, and is dumb enough to travel under his own name.

Previously: Cuil, a mini-review

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