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What Kind of Footprints Have You Left Tracking Across the Internet?

Back in the bricks-and-mortar, pre-Internet age, one's biggest concern over leaving a trail of muddy footprints was how to avoid a scolding from a parent or a spouse. But today, our electronic tracks result in far more than a simple reprimand. They can prevent us from getting a job, and now, as this NYT Sidebar by Adam Liptak (5/15/07) describes, our paperless trail can keep us from crossing the border into another country.

Liptake reports on the story of Andrew Feldmar, a therapist who was refused entry to the United States after a border guard Googled him and discovered an article about Feldmar on his use of LSD. As a result, Feldmar was directed to gain a waiver from the consul to enter the United States.

Dan Markel discusses the story in this Prawfs Blawg post. Markel is troubled not as much by the extent of reliance on a search engine but rather the end result that it enabled: denial of entry based on a nonadjudicated instance of wrongdoing. He writes:

Adjudicated wrongdoings are generally determined after access to counsel, exhausting of various defenses, etc.  One of these defenses is particularly salient in the context of contemporary comparative drug policy: what if the conduct that kept folks like Feldmar out was legal in the jurisdiction it occurred when it occurred? This is precisely the due process consideration that the Supreme Court properly kvetched about in the BMW v. Gore and State Farm punitive damages cases.  If Feldmar's story is generalized, US border guards are now empowered to be a one-person judge, jury, and executioner of another nation's drug policy--and who knows what other kinds of inquiries border guards will feel comfortable making; can they call your ex-boyfriends or teachers to ferret out unadjudicated wrongdoing?

Until these issues are resolved, all we can do in this electronic age is tread lightly and hope that our past mistakes don't leave a permanent impression online.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 15, 2007 at 05:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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