Liberty Gets Used Up Only When Not in Use

For some interesting stuff about a US Citizen's almost-never-exercised right to remain silent when re-entering the United States, and the punitive responses it incites from our public servants, see Paul Karl Lukacs, I Am Detained By The Feds For Not Answering Questions and the sequels, 10 Brief Responses To 700 Comments About Refusing To Answer Questions At Passport Control and More Law: Refusing To Answer Questions At U.S. Passport Control.

Here's how it begins:

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.

Lawyers and others may want to read Split Circuits, N.D. Georgia Notes Split Re: Whether Use of Pre-Arrest Silence in Government’s Case-in-Chief Violates Fifth Amendment

(Found via Pogo Was Right, Pointer: More Law: Refusing To Answer Questions At U.S. Passport Control)

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4 Responses to Liberty Gets Used Up Only When Not in Use

  1. Vic says:

    This is all very good and well, but why did the author waste his (and other people’s) time over it? He’s not making any point that will ever affect anything. In his (apparent view) the Border Agents should just see a U.S. passport, read the customs dec and let the person in. Does anyone think this is even remotely a possibility, or even should be? Really? Is anyone, anywhere in the system going to be upset about how citizen’s rights are being trampled upon by being asked simple, and mostly innocuous questions upon re-entry? Are our Court systems clogged up with returning citizens who “slipped up” and didn’t know who won the 1956 World Series? Aside from the law not really being on his side, this “problem” is just silly. There are far more relevant abuses by Government authorities that would be better addressed if one insists on making such a point.

    He also fails to note (or maybe know) that not everything that is going on at the border when you are talking to an agent is what it appears to be. Very often, the questions being asked of you don’t matter because the agent isn’t really paying attention to you, but is taking extra time to check out that nervous looking guy in the bow tie behind you. The agents have enough to worry about without actually giving a crap about the vacations of every random citizen returning from Tahiti. Border Agents, just like everyone else, know that most people returning from overseas are of no relevance what-so-ever, and of the remaining that have made some mistake in their customs dec, most of them don’t matter either. Customs is not really loooking for the guy smuggling in a pack of foreign cigarettes or a bottle of Absynthe. They might even let you keep stuff that they shouldn’t if you are just polite about it (had it happen, seen it happen). All in all, just be polite, answer the stupid questions, and do your part to ensure EVERYONE can get home ASAP.

    In the end, all he did was make a bunch of trouble for himself and hold up the line for others. And since he IS on some list, he’s likely to get hightened scrutiny every time now. Good goin’ skipper.

    (clearly he’s not also dragging a wife and two kids through this – or his little experiment would quickly be nixed by his spouse!)

  2. Vic, To the extent we disagree, that’s life. But please explain what you mean by alleging that the law is “not really being on [my] side.” Paul Karl Lukacs

  3. JoeCNY says:

    Vic,
    Continue to bow to your overseers. You deserve it.

  4. howard says:

    So could you refuse to fill out the form passed out on the airplane as well and just let them search your bags instead – or does this just apply to verbal responses to questions like did you pack your bags or what were you doing in country X?

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