Saturday, June 28, 2008

Musk Oxen and Monetary Instruments

Heading south again. Another border crossing. This one Canada to US, on the airlines. Another customs declaration card to fill out. Airline, flight number, US Address. I put "Holiday Inn" and the name of the city. There are probably six Holiday Inns here, and I might end up in the Ramada, but that will do. Am I carrying more than $10,000 in monetary instruments? No. I wonder if you get a dirty look for answering "yes" to that question when you're importing an expensive violin. Am I carrying any fruits or meats? Yes, I have SunRype fruit bars and several packages of musk ox jerky in my flight bag. Have I visited a farm, ranch or pasture recently? Well, actually, yes to that one, too. I went with my friend and her toddler to a hobby farm. Have I been touching livestock? Well, yes, that's what you do at a petting zoo. That and trying to keep the child from abusing the rabbits badly enough to get bitten.

Apparently there's a move on to close petting zoos and hobby farms as unsanitary or dangerous or something. What? That's what it's all about. Every kid has to spend some time wallowing in animal feces and poking goats with his soother in order to grow up big and strong, and knowledgeable about where eggs come from. A hundred years ago most of the population of Canada grew up on farms and now they aren't safe to take your kids to for an afternoon visit? Silly.

I get a friendly customs agent. What is the purpose of my trip? I'm flying down to the United States to get a Canadian airplane and fly it back to Canada in the service of a Canadian company working for a Canadian customer. All these Canadas keep me legit to enter the country to work without a green card. He asks about the YESes on my customs card. I don't know what they do with the information. I suppose if I had said I was on my cousin's farm this morning helping her to dispose of the diseased carcasses of her mad cows they might turn me away. Or maybe ask me to wash with hand sanitizer. But petting zoo, which I admit to sheepishly (har har), isn't a problem. He wants to confirm how to spell Musk Ox, but not because it's contraband either, rather because apparently I'm his first musk ox jerky carrier, and he keeps track of the weird things people import. Perhaps he has a blog somewhere, himself.

He asks a few more questions. They aren't really standard from crossing to crossing in the order or the exact questions. They're just looking for inconsistencies or nervousness I guess. I think every time I cross the border that goes in my file, and as I keep doing the same thing over and over again I build up credibility. Or suspicion. He scribbles something illegible on my customs card and I proceed to the exit where another agent takes my card, looks at the scribbles and lets me out. Welcome to America.


Anonymous said...

I presume you're aware of the DHS' habit of seizing computers and digital media on entry into the US? The question "are you carrying any laptop computers or digital camera cards" can result in same disappearing for an indeterminate period (days, weeks, months, forever) while the DHS snoops through your personal data.

This is not the same as the child porn searches conducted by Canadian CBP and is much more invasive. DHS has taken particular interest in web browsing history, bookmarks, emails and email address books, and any information useful for commercial espionage. Some people who've been hit by this haven't had their computers returned at all.

I don't know if the laptop seizure program is currently targeting aircrew, but it's definitely targeting known journalists, non-white business travelers, and anyone who has had contact with anyone else already on one of the DHS' watchlists.

It's a real bad idea to take a computer into the US if it contains anything you don't want the DHS brownshirts to be looking over and/or pinning up in their offices. It's a very bad idea for your company to be sending computers over the US border with commercially sensitive information that could be expropriated and given to US-based competitors.

(Incidentally, cash and monetary instruments over $10,000 will be seized as drug money unless the bearer can prove to customs that the cash is legitimate. Since the DHS gets a cut of seized cash, their standards of proof are very high.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks to anonymous about computer seizures - I had no idea. That's an incredible violation to me - would/do they apply the same standards to say my cell phone (looking at previously called numbers?), or a paper notebook (looking for seditious thoughts expressed in jottings?) ... Sooo wierd...

I just Googled this and Apparently They Can!!!!

The last line in the American Anthem refers to the Land of the free and the home of the brave. Which used to signify to me the understanding that living FREE is dangerous and requires courage. The most secure, safe place to live is in a prison. Free = Dangerous, no way around it.

I fear that some governments have forgotten that - hopefully their citizens haven't!

Aviatrix said...

This is a big deal in Canada. Apparently Canadian law firms have policies that they bring blank laptops across the border and download everything they need over an encrypted connection after arrival.

I haven't yet shifted into full paranoia mode with the laptop: it's just too convenient to have my life with me on the road.

Anonymous said...


DHS is hugely interested in cell phone logs and any other records of who is in contact with whom. If some fumble-fingered brownshirt misreads your cell phone log and thinks you've been talking with Osama bin Laden, you'll spend the rest of your life in Guantanamo Bay.

Frankly I'd be a hell of a lot more comfortable flying to China rather than the US. I'd rather not even enter American airspace if I could avoid it.