Last month Goodman, an 81-year-old retired University of Kansas history professor, received a letter from his friend in the Philippines that had been opened and resealed with a strip of dark green tape bearing the words â€œby Border Protectionâ€ and carrying the official Homeland Security seal.
â€œI had no idea (Homeland Security) would open personal letters,â€ Goodman told MSNBC.com in a phone interview. â€œThatâ€™s why I alerted the media. I thought it should be known publicly that this is going on,â€ he said. Goodman originally showed the letter to his own local newspaper, the Kansas-based Lawrence Journal-World.
Can someone tell me why is this newsworthy? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this exactly what the US Customs Service (the predecessor agency of Customs and Border Protection) has had the authority to do since its creation in 1789? And isn’t this authority spelled out in plain English on CBP’s website?
More than likely, this letter was opened not out of any terrorism-related concern, but because of the Philippines’ well-documented role as a hub for pirated intellectual property (earning a place on a USTR watch list as a result) and illegal trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals, as CBP Asst. Commissioner Jayson Ahern told Congress last year, when he noted that in one CBP crackdown the Philippines ranked fourth among all countries as the point of origin of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
There are certainly cases where the government has overreached on privacy and civil liberties issues, as I’ve written about in this post, and I think the media is doing a commendable job of bringing issues such as the recent disclosures about the NSA to public attention. But the media needs to do a better job of discerning between real “Big Brother” concerns and red herrings such as this story, rather than crying wolf in response to any scrap of evidence that supports a theory of malicious government overreach.