CNN poll confirms: Most Americans believe their government is a threat to their welfare

A majority of Americans think the federal government poses a threat to rights of Americans, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government’s become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. Forty-four percent of those polled disagree.

The survey indicates a partisan divide on the question: only 37 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans say the federal government poses a threat to the rights of Americans.

According to CNN poll numbers released Sunday, Americans overwhelmingly think that the U.S. government is broken – though the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what’s broken can be fixed.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted February 12-15, with 1,023 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the overall survey.

DHS Directives on Border Searches of Electronic Media

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced two new directives aimed at improving oversight for searches of computers and electronic decides at U.S. entry ports. This is viewed as an important move to support DHS efforts to “combat transnational crime and terrorism while protecting privacy and civil liberties.”

“The new directives address the circumstances under which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can conduct border searches of electronic media—consistent with the Department’s Constitutional authority to search other sensitive non-electronic materials, such as briefcases, backpacks and notebooks, at U.S. borders.” The CBP directive can be found here, while the ICE directive can be found here. DHS today also released this Privacy Impact Assessment for the new guidelines on border searches of electronic devices in order to enhance public understanding of these new procedures and controls used by DHS.

ACLU demands records of border searches of laptops

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol‘s controversial practice of randomly searching laptops upon U.S. entry quietly began last year but has quickly drawn attention, including a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union for records related to the practice.

With regard to the searches, which don’t require “individualized suspicion” to conduct, the ACLU has asked for “records pertaining to the criteria used for selecting passengers for suspicionless searches, the number of people who have been subject to the searches, the number of devices and documents retained and the reasons for their retention.” The suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan.

Last summer, the practice also drew the attention of a Senate subcommittee which held a hearing where defenders likened it to searching a suitcase. Opponents of the practice — including some reporters — fear the government’s intention may be to collect information about otherwise private matters. Regardless, as the ACLU argues, this practice may compromise individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Racist Web Posts Traced to Homeland Security

After federal border agents detained several Mexican immigrants in western New York in June, an article about the incident in a local newspaper drew an onslaught of vitriolic postings on its Web site. Some were racist. Others attacked farmers in the region, an apple-growing area east of Rochester, accusing them of harboring illegal workers. Still others made personal attacks about the reporter who wrote the article.

Most of the posts were made anonymously. But in reviewing the logs of its Internet server, the paper, The Wayne County Star in Wolcott, traced three of them to Internet protocol addresses at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border protection.

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San Bernardino County broadens inmate screening for deportation

Two flat-screen televisions loom large in a small booking office at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Federally trained San Bernardino County sheriff‘s employees use the screens to patch into other jails, some nearly 100 miles away, to identify inmates eligible for deportation.

For the past seven months, the Sheriff’s Department has used the $100,000 video-conferencing system to expand its collaborative program with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, established three years ago at West Valley.

Instead of only using eight ICE-trained sheriff’s custody specialists to interview potential criminal illegal immigrants booked into the Rancho Cucamonga jail, the video setup allows the same work to be done at jails in San Bernardino, Barstow, Joshua Tree and Victorville.

“We had the capabilities to go out there before, but we were losing time,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Sarkis Ohannessian, who oversees the 287(g) program, named for a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows local agencies to enforce immigration laws under federal supervision.

“The entire interview is conducted from the screen,” Ohannessian said.

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ACLU seeks data on border laptop searches

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a FOIA request for records on laptops searched by border officials, PC Magazine reported. ACLU says these searching practices raise questions concerning First and Fourth Amendment rights because “they involve highly intrusive governmental probing into a traveler’s most private information.” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to release updated guidelines regarding these border laptop searches in the next few months.

How many laptops have border officials searched at U.S. borders? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants to know.

The group filed a freedom of information (FOIA) request with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Homeland Security Department requesting any and all records dating back to January 1, 2007.

“Disclosure of the requested information … will further public understanding of the government’s expansive exercise of search authority over all travelers, including U.S. citizens, passing through the country’s international borders,” the letter reads.

More here.

Congressional probe of Riverside Border Patrol office sought

The union representing U.S. Border Patrol agents is calling for a congressional investigation into the agency’s Riverside office.

Lombardo Amaya, president of Local 2554 of the National Border Patrol Council, said he’s frustrated that a Department of Homeland Security investigation of the office has not yielded results and might not be fair.

Homeland Security is investigating allegations that Ramon Chavez, patrol agent in charge of the Riverside office, enacted arrest quotas and punished agents who did not meet the quotas by repeatedly changing their schedules, a violation of agency rules. Border Patrol is part of Homeland Security.

The investigation is being conducted by the inspector general’s office of Homeland Security, which was created as an independent investigatory arm. But Amaya said he wants someone outside Homeland Security to look into the charges.

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