Customs Confiscates My Computer When I Won’t Give Up My Password

Aug 15, 2017 by

Customs Confiscates My Computer When I Won’t Give Up My Password

Return trip from Cancun: Flying Internationally As a Convicted Terrorist, Part VI

Flying into the US…. I’d done this before, and knew the deal: The border is a Constitution-free zone. It is literally the only place in which the US government can exercise the full range of its intrusive, terrorist-hating, voyeuristic impulses; without legal constraints or public scrutiny. At Customs, anything goes.

Cancun was kind of weird but kind of fun, and four days after arriving I made the return trip to Chicago. Getting off the plane, Customs was kind of an afterthought. There are never any surprises.

  1. They wait for me as I exit the plane
  2. Everything gets ransacked
  3. They ask me a thousand personal questions
  4. I don’t respond
  5. They yell and/or make fun of me
  6. A couple hours pass
  7. I continue on into my own country there was never any chance they could keep me out of anyway.

Etc., etc.

That’s the formula.

But I’d forgotten this was Chicago; not Seattle, or San Francisco or something. Behavior of both Customs and the TSA generally reflects the temperament and pulse of the city they’re based in.

In Portland, the TSA is perma-stoned and laissez faire.

In Louisiana, they’re small people from small towns and freak out accordingly. (Great place to let your jacket drape over the first seven letters of your “Earth Crisis” band shirt, by the way. They love that.)

I’d spent lots of time in Chicago, and knew Chicagoans walked around like life was war. Which is why I should have paid attention to what city my connecting flight was in. It would have prepared me for what was about to happen.

Agents were waiting for me at the booth. After I’d waited in line for an hour, they pounced.

Customs are even bigger losers than the TSA. Double the swagger while still being dorks getting a little power by being around the only people on the totem pole lower than them.

They brought me to a row of long tables.

“Empty your pockets.”

The dumbest-looking one picked up my wallet.

“How much money is in here?”

These guys were the worst.

“I don’t know.” I said.

“Hey! There’s an easy way to do this, and a hard way. HOW MUCH MONEY?!”

I didn’t think people actually said that “easy way / hard way” thing.

We went back and forth for a minute and I said, flatly:

“I’m not talking to you.”

Then I sat down.

People generally overestimate how difficult it is to not respond to someone yelling at you. The trick is to close your eyes, then stretch the truth about 10% and picture them as little trolls. It works.

“Hey, is this your current address? Where did you stay in Mexico?!”

Etc., etc.

Remember that a border-interrogation is the lowest-consequence interrogation ever. They can’t not let you into your own country. None of it matters.

“We can lock you up for 72 hours if we need to. We have a whole building downtown for people like you.”

They took my cell phone and laptop and three of them disappeared into the back.

Five minutes later, one of them approached with notepad.

“I need the password for your cell and computer.”

I said nothing.

“Here’s the deal – We’re going to lock you up for 3 days if we don’t get your password? You hear that?”

This may have been a credible threat. But giving up passwords is my line in the sand. No way.

Some other guy came over 10 minutes later. This one was the least hostile of these Chicago guys while still being the most hostile person you’d ever met.

“Since you wouldn’t give us the passwords, we’re keeping your computer and your phone. If you don’t want that to happen, all you have to do is give us the passwords.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Here’s the receipt for you property.”

He waves a piece of paper in my face.

I didn’t take it. So he folded in half and threw it at me.

Ten minutes later the biggest and ugliest of them came over with a notepad.

“What’s a number for you so we can call you when you can pick up your property?”

This is where I did something that surprised even me. I spoke for the first time in an hour, and said-

“You’re asking me for my phone number?”

“That’s right.”

I did a quick calculation on the quickest way to antagonize a big dumb doofus with a badge and fragile masculinity.

“Are you hitting on me?”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed at my own joke. A lot.

“Oh you’re funny!”

He was mad.

“Hey guys!” He turned around. “He says I’m hitting on him! He’s making fun of us now!”

He waddled off.

Oh, I forgot. This was the document the last guy threw at me:


I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next, but I assumed this was where they’d handcuff me and put me on a 72-hour hold. That’s when one of them waved me over.

“Come pack up your stuff!”

Arrest time. Let’s get this over with…

I walked over to my bags. As I packed them up, one of them threw down my passport.

“The terminal is through those doors.”

This is like your release date in prison: When you haven’t lived the most well-behaved life, even though they’re telling you you’re free, you’re 51% sure there’s going to be someone waiting for you on the other side. With handcuffs.

But that was it. I walked through two doors into the terminal, and nothing happened.

The lessons? None. I pulled a Constitution-based move in a Constitution-free zone, and for the effort, I was out one computer and one cell phone. I may have scored points with our nation’s founders, but when I had no way to call for a ride after my plane landed at 1 am, I had to sleep on the ground at the airport.

The last laugh is usually mine

I did leave Customs with one parting joke: Take a look at that receipt again. One $120 Acer and an ancient Galaxy S3?

Joke’s on you Customs. I planned ahead for this. You were looking for files to expose a terrorist plot, and you got something else.

I left you holding a burner phone and burner laptop. Totally empty. Keep them. Have fun dorks.

-Jetsetting Terrorist

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