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The Right Not to Answer Passport Control's Questions Upon Re-Entering the U.S.

In July 2010, I wrote here about the rights of customers at stores like Best Buy or IKEA to give the Heisman to the Exit Door Receipt Guy and refuse to produce a receipt for the items with which you are leaving the store. The bottom line according to Consumerist and other sources is that "bag searches and receipt checks are voluntary. As in, you can refuse."

Passportcontrol A similar dynamic is apparently at work at passport control checkpoints at international airports. In this post on his Knife Tricks blog (via The Faculty Lounge), Paul Karl Lukacs writes about his decision not to answer a passport control officer's questions about why he had traveled outside the United States.

U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration, Lukacs writes, are not obligated to answer questions. Nonetheless, the officer asked him gruffly, “Why were you in China?” 

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This "did not go over well," Lukacs says, and prompted another series of questions about his visit to China that he similarly refused to answer. He was then led to a “Secondary” questioning area and, because he continued to refuse to provide answers, was detained for a brief period until a "superior" officer instructed the others to “just inspect his bags. He has a right to remain silent.” With that, a half an hour and five federal officers after he arrived at passport control, Lukacs was told he could leave.

Here is a summary of Lukacs' "Principal Take-Aways" from his encounter:

1. Cops Really Don’t Like It When You Refuse to Answer Their Questions.

2. They’re Keeping Records. A federal, computer-searchable file exists on his refusal to answer questions, Lukacs asserts.

3. This Is About Power, Not Security.

4. U.S. Citizens Have No Obligation to Answer Questions. 

Posted by Bruce Carton on September 14, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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