Why Does Border Patrol Need the Ability To Delete Messages?

Yet, the same government who wants access to our online and secure communications wants to also destroy their own data to protect it from public view. It’s not true!

While it may not surprise many, it’s important to note when the government grabs privacy technology in order to protect secrets. NBC News covered the use by Customs and Border Patrol of Wickr (Amazon-owned) to communicate, file-share, and message with one another. The service can also be personalized so that messages are automatically deleted.

CBP purchased and used the app, raising concerns from the National Archives and Records Administration about the possibility that CBP could use the app to erase messages and communications which are required to be kept under the Federal Records Act. In a letter to DHS last autumn, the National Archives chief records officer expressed his concern and asked for documentation on policies. CBP has not fully answered his questions. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is now sueing CBP for not responding to Freedom of Information Act requests for information about Wickr implementation.

DHS has a reputation for wanting access to all of our data with minimal privacy protections. CBP has always demanded electronic access from legal immigrants crossing the border to the United States without warrants, suspicion or any other criminal activity. Federal judges have recently ruled that border agents must be able express a reasonable suspicion to request access to the personal contents of traveler’s phones, tablets or laptops. CBP searched these thousands of devices annually and copied the contents of many of them, without ever discovering any evidence that they were wrongdoing.

The bosses of DHS, CBP, are opposed to the public being granted unrestricted access tools such as end-to-end encryption. It is much more difficult for government officials to gain access to our private data without our knowledge and permission. FBI Director Christopher Wray wants to make it harder for online communication platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter to provide government backdoors around the very tools used by CBP personnel to keep their communications private. It would compromise Americans’ privacy and allow foreign surveillance to continue.

This also raises the issue of accountability. CBP can use force to stop foreign travelers crossing the border as well as Americans who live within 100-miles of it. Some of these agents have become violent with residents, much like other law enforcement personnel. CBP as a federally funded agency is expected to communicate its actions and those of its agents.

Officers can communicate with one another to prove intent to commit misconduct or violence. A government agent’s ability to hide or delete messages can have an impact on the agency’s ability to investigate and, if necessary, to prosecute criminal behavior. When the federal government is unable to stop misconduct, it makes it more difficult for external media outlets and accountability organisations like CREW or CREW monitor the situation.

It’s a dangerous decision to make, even though “Privacy for Me, But Not for Thee” would be a horrible position. However, it is downright deadly when you are dealing with an agency of law enforcement officers armed.